If you find yourself involved in a civil lawsuit, you are undoubtedly curious as to how the process is going to work and what to expect next. Even if you have counsel it’s sometimes confusing and hard to understand exactly how the steps of a lawsuit will work. Obviously, each case will be different and the process of each lawsuit will vary to some degree. However, the basic stages each lawsuit proceeds through are pleadings, discovery, trial and the appeal.
Pleadings identify the scope of the issues being brought before the court. The initial pleading which initiates the lawsuit is called a complaint. The complaint is the document in which the plaintiff identifies the defendants, alleges the facts and circumstances of the matter and the legal causes of action the plaintiff is asserting against the defendants.
The defendants then have their opportunity to assert their side of the story. This is done by a pleading commonly called an answer. In the answer, the defendants have the opportunity to respond to the allegations in the complaint by either admitting or denying each allegation. The defendants also have the opportunity to allege any affirmative defenses they have to the complaint. Finally, the defendants have the opportunity to assert claims against the plaintiffs by filing a counterclaim, against other defendants by filing a cross-claim, or against third parties by filing a third party complaint. If additional claims are made by the defendants the parties against whom those claims are made are allowed the opportunity to answer or reply to those claims.
Once the scope of the lawsuit has been identified by the pleadings, the parties get the opportunity to engage in discovery. This is usually the longest part of any lawsuit and is the process created to allow each party to locate and identify the facts and evidence which they are going to use to support their case to the judge or jury. There are numerous mechanisms which can be utilized to engage in discovery. Many people are familiar with the concept of a deposition which allows the parties to ask an individual questions under oath prior to trial. Another mechanism is a request for production of documents which allows a party to request that another party turn over documents identified in the request. Other commonly utilized discovery mechanisms are interrogatories and admissions.
The trial is the stage in the lawsuit where the parties present the evidence which they have accumulated during discovery that support their pleadings. There are two types of trials. The first, and most commonly known, is a jury trial in which the evidence is presented to a jury. The second type of trial is referred to as a bench trial and involves the presentation of evidence directly to the judge without a jury. Following the presentation of the evidence supporting the pleadings, the judge or jury considers the evidence and enters a judgment. The judgment can be completely in favor of one party or the other or can find a middle ground through which both parties win some, but not all, of what they have requested in their pleadings.
Following the trial any party dissatisfied with the results has the opportunity to appeal the determination. An appeal allows the dissatisfied party the opportunity to identify issues which it believes have been improperly decided and ask a higher court to decide whether an error occurred. An appeal initiates its own particular process but the end result can range from upholding the original decision to reversing the lower court.
Jennifer Mahe has practiced law in the Northern Nevada area since 2005 focusing on general civil matters such as real estate, business, litigation and estate planning. She can be reached either via the Mahe Law, Ltd. website, www.mahelaw.com, or at 775-461-0992. If you have a legal topic related to general civil law which you would like to see addressed in this column in the future, send that topic to the Nevada Appeal.