What to Expect in a Lawsuit

Whether you’re the plaintiff or defendant, a lawsuit is a complicated process.  There are many court rules, filing deadlines, and procedural requirements that you should be aware of. As a result, once you realize that you will become involved in a lawsuit it is good practice to immediately consult with an attorney. An attorney’s job is to determine your legal strategy, ensure that you do not miss important deadlines, and guide you through the legal process.

A lawsuit is usually resolved within one to three years after a complaint is filed by the plaintiff. The complaint explains how the plaintiff was harmed and why the defendant should be responsible for the plaintiff’s harm. The Defendant has thirty days to respond to the complaint once he or she is served with the complaint.

There are a number of ways the Defendant can respond to the complaint. Typically, the Defendant will either: (1) simply deny the allegations in the Complaint by filing an answer or (2) demurrer. In a demurrer the Defendant states that the Plaintiff’s complaint is procedurally defective or otherwise fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Throughout the lawsuit, the parties engage in discovery. “Discovery” is the word used to describe the process of investigating the case and gathering information. The discovery process is the most extensive and time consuming part of the lawsuit.  Discovery enables each party to determine (1) what witnesses to call during trial; (2) what documents are important; (3) whether expert witnesses are needed; and (4) the exact facts of the case.

During the discovery process, each party is able to submit written questions and request documents from the opposing side. Each party is also able to conduct depositions (questioning under oath) or subpoena documentation from third parties.  Therefore, you should be prepared to answer questions under oath during the lawsuit and turn over relevant documentation.

The first scheduled court date is the case management conference or “CMC”. At the CMC the judge does not listen to any arguments or evaluate any evidence. The only goal of the CMC is to schedule the trial dates and other procedural deadlines.

At any time the parties may settle their dispute outside of court. In fact around 90% of civil cases settle prior to trial.  California courts also prefer that litigants attempt to resolve their disputes informally.  Accordingly, you should be prepared to mediate your dispute.  At the mediation a neutral third person will attempt to resolve the case. At all times the parties have complete control over whether their case settles.

If your case does not settle informally through mediation, the dispute will be settled at trial. A jury of your peers will hear the case and decide the result if either party requests one. If no jury is requested, the judge will hear and decide your case. At trial the parties will examine witness, submit documentation, and make oral arguments.  During trial the parties’ evidence must comply with the evidence code and the parties’ strategy must comply with the rules of civil procedure. Accordingly, you or your attorney should ensure that you are familiar with the evidence code and rules of civil procedure prior to trial.

Getting involved in a lawsuit can be a trying and stressful time. An attorney can help you comply with court rules, develop a litigation strategy, and guide you through the legal process. At Griswold LaSalle we have extensive litigation experience and can help you resolve your dispute.

If you are seeking help initiating a lawsuit or defending one, feel free to contact us.