Understanding the Litigation Process

The general stages of the litigation process explained and what you should know if you’re ever involved in a lawsuit.

A frightening reality of the times that we live in is that being sued is not just for the wealthy anymore. Whether you find yourself injured in an accident or arguing over the estate of a loved one, in today’s society it is possible for any one of us to become involved in a lawsuit. In the event that this should occur, having a basic understanding of the litigation process will help to make an otherwise daunting situation, seem more manageable. While each case is unique to the parties and the issue, most lawsuits are managed by the courts using the same process, which occurs in the following three basic stages that are discussed below.

Three Stages of Litigation

1. The Beginning

A lawsuit is initiated by the filing of a “complaint.” The person who files a lawsuit is called a “plaintiff.” The person who is being sued is call the “defendant.” A complaint identifies the persons or entities being sued, a statement of the pertinent facts, legal claims, and the types of financial damages suffered by the plaintiff. Examples of financial damages include, loss of income and medical bills. The defendant is served with a copy of the complaint and will have a period of time to respond to facts and claims alleged by the plaintiff. Once the Defendant has answered the complaint, the parties will proceed into the “discovery” phase of the lawsuit.

2. The Middle

During the discovery phase of a lawsuit each side is given the opportunity to learn more about the other’s claims and defenses. Information gathered during the discovery process will serve as evidence that used in support of party’s case. In Illinois, the discovery process is broken down into two parts: written and oral discovery.

Written Discovery

First the parties are to engage in written discovery, which allows each party the opportunity to make a written request for information. Such requests will come in the form of Admissions (asking the opposing side to admit or deny certain facts), Interrogatories (detailed questions concerning the facts of the case) and Production (asking the opposing party to produce relevant documents).

Oral Discovery

Upon completion of written discovery, the parties then have the right to obtain oral testimony of the respective parties, witness to the event at issue, and experts that may be used to support the position of one party or another. Oral discovery, or depositions, are taken by a lawyer who will ask the deponent a series of questions regarding facts at issue. A deposition is not the same as appearing as a witness at trial, and any witness who is deposed may be asked to testify again if the matter should go to trial.

3. The End

Upon completion of the discovery process, the parties will proceed into mediation where the hope is that there is enough evidence for settlement to be reached. However, unless the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of one party or another, it is difficult to know whether any particular case will settle. If the parties are unable to settle, the matter will proceed to trial. The length of a trial will depend on the complexity of the facts and the numbers of witnesses scheduled to testify. A civil trial is most often heard and decided by a jury of your peers, however, having a trial before a judge only is also an option in these instances.

Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, being the party to a lawsuit can be stressful, and even sometimes scary. Having the support of an experienced litigation attorney is critical, in order to ensure that you are given the best chance possible for a positive outcome. The experienced attorneys at Anselmo Lindberg & Associates are here to help answer all your litigation questions. Contact us today.

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