Litigation Process Overview: How to File a Lawsuit

Whether it be personal injury or civil litigation, most people fear the unknown of the litigation process. The vast majority of people never have to see the inside of a courtroom or suffer through the indignity of being served.  However, when these things happen, it helps to understand what the steps are in the process.

Baltimore civil litigation attorney Ken Gauvey is here to help you understand the steps of the litigation process.

How to File a Lawsuit

There are a few ways this process can be started.  One, and the simplest, is a demand letter.  This is a letter, most often from an attorney, that describes the claims alleged, and makes some form of financial demand as an opening offer in negotiations.  This demand is typically far outside the realm of sincerity, but it serves as the starting point for negotiations to avoid litigation, ie. lawsuits.

Filing a Complaint

The next step, or perhaps the first step in many cases, is the filing of a complaint with the relevant court.  The complaint in a lawsuit lays out the facts and claims brought against the defendant.  Once the complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons, and the other party must be served to start the lawsuit.

Answering the Complaint

After being served the defendant has a couple of options.  The defendant can answer the complaint laying out the defenses and admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint.  The defendant can also move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which a plaintiff, the injured party, can actually recover, among other things.  Finally, the defendant can just choose to ignore the complaint, which will eventually end up in a judgment against them.

Discovery and Requesting Information

The longest and most expensive part of a lawsuit is discovery, the next step in the process. In the discovery process, the injured party and the defendant can ask questions, request documents, or force individuals to sit down for a deposition answering questions under oath.  This is the lengthy and most expensive part of the litigation process.  This is true whether the lawsuit is due to a personal injury, or just general civil litigation. This is also the part of the process that generates the most motions and disputes when parties attempt to limit the information the other side gets.  Generally, this part should be a civil undertaking between counsel with matters left to the court to decide, however, egos too often get in the way.

Following discovery, another round of motions begins where the parties ask the court to award in their favor.  The injured party request judgment and damages while the defendant requests judgment.  To rule on this type of motion, the judge must determine that there are no disputed facts, and so there only remain issues of law that are appropriate for the court to rule on.

The Trial and Conclusion of Lawsuit

Finally, the last process is the trial.  A trial in a personal injury matter is often a short one or two-day affair, though in more severe cases where there are permanent and substantial injuries or even death, the trial can last weeks.  This also applies to civil litigation.   At the trial, each party is able to call witnesses to testify, including medical experts.  The judge or jury, depending on the type of trial, then decides who wins, and if the injured party wins, the amount of damages.

Throughout this process, the parties are supposed to be communicating, through counsel, regarding the settlement.  Often, clients think that the option to settle a case is a single part of the process.  In reality, a case can settle at any time from the issuance of a demand letter, to just before the trial, and sometimes even during the trial.

Call Experienced, Trial-Ready Maryland Civil Litigation Attorney Ken Gauvey

This description of what happens when a lawsuit begins is a very basic one.  There are nuances, additional types of motions, and delays that may occur.  A trial in state court is often concluded within a year, while some trials in federal courts may take several years.  So, there are other steps that may be taken on a case by case basis. Therefore, it is important to make sure you have an attorney who knows the relevant rules, and the steps involved in litigation to ensure that the matter proceeds efficiently, without unnecessary cost.

If you, a loved one, or your business has been harmed by another, contact our Maryland litigation attorney for a no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.


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