Whether you are suing someone, being sued, or being called as a witness, a lawsuit is a complicated legal process, and it can be full of unpleasant surprises and frustrating delays. Don’t forget, there are at least two parties to every action, and that means the schedule and the events which take place can be out of your hands. Nonetheless, some things happen in the same order in most litigation, and you can at least get a general idea of what’s likely to happen. It will also help to know some of the words and phrases that come up in a lawsuit.
The following chronology gives a general idea of how a Florida civil litigation lawsuit proceeds. Your action may be different because of differences between state laws and rules of civil procedure. Our attorney can help you understand exactly how your lawsuit will fit with this chronology.
-A civil action (as opposed to a criminal or family proceeding, for example) begins with a Complaint, usually accompanied by a Summons. A Complaint is a legal document that lays out the claims that the Plaintiff (the person or business bringing the lawsuit) has against the Defendant (the person or business being sued). Typically, a lawyer will prepare this document.
-Once the Complaint and Summons are served, typically by a certified process server or the sheriff's department the Defendant has to file a response (answer, motion to dismiss or other applicable motion) within a certain time (usually 20 days). The Answer sets what portions of the Complaint, if any, the defendant admits to, what the Defendant contests, what defenses the Defendant may have, and whether the Defendant has claims against the Plaintiff or any other party. A Motion to Dismiss would set out the legal grounds by which the Plaintiff should not be entitle to relief under the Complaint as filed. The filing of either the answer or a motion to dismiss can be a very complicated matter that should be done with the assistance of experienced legal counsel. There are certain legal rights that can be waived at this stage of the litigation if they are not properly addressed in writing.
-If the Defendant doesn’t answer the Complaint, the court may enter a default judgment against the Defendant. If the Answer contains a counterclaim or a third-party complaint, the party against whom that claim is made also has to answer within a certain time.
-The parties exchange documents and other information about the issues relevant to the litigation, by a process called Discovery. Discovery will typically take three forms: written questions (Interrogatories) which must be answered under oath; document production; and Depositions, (sworn statements taken in front of a court reporter).
-Sometimes, the parties can voluntarily resolve all their issues through alternate dispute resolution such as mediation or a negotiated settlement. The parties can also agree to binding arbitration, and some contracts (insurance contracts and construction contracts, for example) require binding arbitration. Most states and the federal system either require or prefer litigants in civil actions go through alternative dispute resolution in some form. The assistance of legal counsel in the negotiation of any settlement is beneficial. It is essential that a litigant understand his or her liability to ensure that any settlement is fair and equitable under the facts and the law.
Note: If a settlement is reached, and the settlement agreement resolves all issues between the parties the legal portion of the case will be over. Typically, the court is either not involved or is involved only informally. Judicial approval of civil settlements is usually only required when one of the parties is a minor, or when there is a class action, or in other special circumstances that do not typically arise in most litigation.
-In many cases, one or both of the parties will try to resolve the case, or a portion of it, by motion (Summary Judgment). Basically, the moving party present to the court an argument that there are no issues of material fact and that judgment should be entered as a matter of law. This process can become complicated as the law and the facts will in intersect in this motion.
-If the parties do not reach an agreement, and if the matter is not disposed of by motion, the case will go to trial. This will involve a trial before a jury or before the judge alone.
-At trial, the attorneys (or the parties, if they are not represented) present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge or jury decides the unresolved issues. Once the judge or jury has reached a decision, the judge will order that Judgment be entered for the party who wins. The judge may also order that one party pay the other’s attorneys’ fees.
-Either or both parties can appeal a judge’s decision to a higher court.
It’s very hard to say how long all these steps will take in each case. The entire process can take months or years to complete.
Post Judgment Practice
Obtaining a judgment is only a part of the process. If a Judgment is entered against a party that Judgment must be executed on and the collection process will commence. Collection cases are very intricate and legal advice is needed to preserve your reserve and protect your rights and assts.
The Tancredo Law Firm has represented thousands of individuals in civil suits in Florida over the past 22 years.
Our experienced attorney and staff are standing by to help with your case. Feel free to reach out so we can begin working to find the best plan for you.
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