6 Steps of a Lawsuit
If you have been a party to a lawsuit before, you may have an idea of how the litigation process works. If not, you may not know what to expect. Here are the 7 steps you will take through the litigation process.
Step 1: Finding an Attorney
The first step is to consult with an attorney before speaking with the insurance company or police. Your attorney will help you navigate through the legal system and to discuss strategies to help you win your case.
Step 2: The Investigation
During the investigative phase, a thorough investigation will be conducted and information will be obtained about the facts of the case. The investigatory stage can include:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Gathering and preserving physical evidence
- Obtaining photographic/videographic evidence
- Hiring experts or investigators
- Contacting insurance companies
The investigatory stage can take anywhere from one to six months or more, depending upon the particular facts and circumstances of your case. After the investigatory phase is over, a lawyer usually can make a final determination about whether the claim should be pursued.
Step 3: The Pleadings
The pleading is the formal process of presenting the cases of the plaintiff and defendant in a lawsuit. Pleadings are the documents that present these cases. Pleadings serve several purposes.
- Pleadings give notice of each side’s claims (plaintiff) or defense (defendant).
- Pleadings present the facts of the case
- Pleadings bring up the issues that must be resolved before the case can go to trial and during the trial, such as whether a case can be televised, and
- Pleadings may result in a case not being heard.
The process of pleadings may not take very long, but it is an important part of the trial process.
Step 4: The Discovery Process
The discovery process in litigation is compulsory disclosure of information relating to the litigation. Each party in a trial may demand discovery of the other party. For example, the defense may require the prosecution to disclose all information gathered to bring the case to trial.
Pre-trial discovery includes interrogatories, depositions, requests for admissions, and requests for production.
- Interrogatories are written questions submitted by the other side’s attorney and which must be answered before the trial begins.
- A deposition is a written statement, usually transcribed by a court reporter, which is used later during a trial. Often a deposition is taken for a witness who is not able to attend the trial; in this case, the deposition may be read at trial.
- Requests for admission are written factual statements served on another party who must admit, deny, or object to the substance of the statement. It’s common for many requests for admission to be included in one document. Statements which are admitted do not have to be proved at trial.
- Requests for production, like requests for admission, are written requests to another party provide specific documents or other tangible evidence.
Step 5: Settlement Negotiations
Most attorneys engage in settlement negotiations with the responsible party or their insurance company to determine whether a just and reasonable settlement can be obtained without filing a lawsuit. In the settlement negotiation process, the lawyer collects and puts together all of the physical evidence about the collision or incident, documents regarding your damages (including medical bills and lost wages documents) and any necessary expert reports from physicians, economists, accident reconstructionists or others. Once this information is evaluated, a settlement range is determined for your case. A “demand” is then sent to the insurer. The demand sets forth the facts of the case, explains why the other party is responsible, provides documentation and evidence about your damages and injuries, and offers an amount to settle the case. Depending upon the response, negotiations will continue back and forth until either a settlement is obtained or an impasse is reached.
Step 6: Trial
A trial is the judicial examination of the issues between the parties, whether they be issues of law or of fact. In some jurisdictions, it is possible to get a trial date shortly after discovery and motions have been completed. In other courts, it may take many months or a year or more. On average it takes between one year and eighteen months from filing to the start of trial.