Building from the ground up: What to expect during a civil lawsuit
January 20, 2015
At Ball Eggleston, our focus is in civil litigation and civil law; collaboratively we have handled thousands of cases, protecting those who have been injured or incurred a loss as a result of another party. We hope you never have had to experience physical injury or emotional damage or trauma due to the fault of another. However, should you find yourself in the midst of a civil lawsuit, we are here to help you.
This post, as part of our Law Education Series, will outline the lifecycle of a civil lawsuit. Should you find yourself in a civil lawsuit, it is imperative to understand the progression of a civil case through pre-trial, trial, and appeal.
What happens first? The pre-trial:
The pre-trial stage of the civil lawsuit lifecycle includes an initial case investigation, pleadings, and discovery.
1. An initial case investigation determines if enough evidence exists to file a lawsuit or to discover what evidence exists to defend a lawsuit. If enough evidence exists, the initial case investigation leads directly into the pleadings stage of pre-trial activities.
2. The pleadings stage begins when the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s attorney file a complaint with the courts. A complaint outlines factual allegations, highlights legal causes of action, and states what the plaintiff is asking of the courts.
- Once a complaint is filed, a court clerk issues a summons. A summons is delivered to the defendant along with a copy of the complaint in order to notify the defendant of the lawsuit and to obtain jurisdiction over the defendant.
- Upon reception of the summons and copy of the complaint by the defendant, the defendant must respond to the summons by either filing an answer, where the defendant admits or denies the allegations against them, or filing a motion. A defendant can file a variety of different motions.
- A Motion for Change of Venue contests the place in which the suit was filed on the grounds that the trial rules require the action be filed in a different county or court (ie. a case is filed in the wrong court purposely to make it difficult for the other involved party to participate)
- A Motion for Change of Judge requests that a suit be assigned to a different judge (ie. there is a conflict of interest between the presiding judge for one or both of the parties involved)
- A Motion to Strike challenges the procedural and legal sufficiency of the complaint’s allegations (ie. a filed complaint does not comply with court orders or has improper demands or damage claims)
- A Motion to Dismiss seeks to end the suit because the action was untimely or because no legal relief is warranted (ie. the plaintiff filed a complaint which failed to establish a claim upon which relief can be granted)
After a defendant responds to the complaint against them, the discovery stage begins.
3. The discovery stage serves two main purposes: it allows both parties to obtain the evidence needed for trial and it allows each side to see the strengths and weaknesses of the other party’s respective case.
When a civil lawsuit makes it through the pre-trial stage, it sees trial.
The next step: The Trial
Unlike criminal cases, civil cases are not entitled to be seen before a jury; civil lawsuits can either be seen by a judge or a jury. When a civil lawsuit is seen by a judge, it is called a “bench trial” and when a civil lawsuit is seen by a jury, it is called a “jury trial.” Regardless of whether a civil lawsuit is seen before a judge or jury, a trial includes opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, and the rendering of a decision.
- Opening statements allow both the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney to describe for the judge or jury what each party expects the evidence to show. Once opening statements are made by each party, the trial progresses to the presentation of evidence.
- Presentation of evidence allows each party to introduce witnesses, documents, and all evidence relevant to the merits of their respective case. Once all evidence is presented to the court by both parties, the trial transitions into closing arguments.
- Closing arguments allow both parties to suggest to the judge or jury what the evidence presented before them means. Closing arguments allow each party a final opportunity to express their side of the case before the rendering of a decision.
- Rendering of a decision refers to the ruling by a judge or jury either in favor of the plaintiff or in favor of the defendant. If the ruling is in favor of the plaintiff, the judge or jury has seen enough evidence, legally placing the defendant at fault. If the ruling is in favor of the defendant, it means that the judge or jury sides with the defendant, legally absolving the defendant of fault. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, the losing party is entitled to appeal the decision of the court.
The final step: Appeal
When a losing party is unhappy with the decision of a court, they are entitled to appeal that decision to an appellate court. The role of an appellate court is to examine the records of the lower court by examining all transcripts of testimony, evaluating all pre-trial and trial evidence, and hearing additional oral arguments from both the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney if necessary. Once the review process is completed, the appellate court confirms the lower court’s decision, overturns the lower court’s decision, or sends proceedings back to the lower court for a new trial.
For example, if you are involved with a personal injury lawsuit, either as the plaintiff or the defendant, and the final decision of the court is not in your favor, you have a right to appeal. You can challenge the damages awarded and continue to fight for a new decision. You can submit a notice of appeal demand a re-examination of the case by a higher court.
According to former Chief Justice of Indiana Supreme Court, Randall T. Shepard, approximately only 5% of all civil lawsuits see trial; meaning 95% of civil lawsuits are either dismissed or settled before seeing trial.
At Ball Eggleston, we treat every claim as if it were going to trial and we prepare diligently to be prepared for when your civil lawsuit does see trial. To understand how we prepare, stay tuned for our next Law Education Series post, detailing our role as civil litigation attorneys throughout each stage of the civil lawsuit lifecycle.
Ball Eggleston is located at 201 Main Street, Suite 810 P.O. Box 1535 Lafayette, IN 47902. Contact Ball Eggleston by phone at (765) 742‑9046, by fax at (765) 742‑1966, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, find Ball Eggleston online at ballegg.local. You can also find us on Facebook.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.