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A civil lawsuit arises out of a dispute between people, business, or other entitites, including the government. Civil suits generally follow certain steps including pleadings, discovery, motions, and trial.



A civil suit can be a complicated and stressful experience.  DeVerna Law believes that by providing a better understanding of what lays ahead, a person can better prepare for the challenge.  


Below is some general information to help people understand the steps in a civil case and alternatives to litigation .

REMEMBER: The information below is general information meant for educational purposes.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person who views it.  If you think you need personalized legal assistance, always speak with a qualified attorney.


In the pleadings phase, each party files papers with the court explaining their side of the dispute.  It begins when the person suing (known as the "Plaintiff") files initial papers (known as a "Complaint") with the court and the person being sued. The Complaint describes what the person being sued (known as the "Defendant") did, or failed to do, that caused the harm.  The Complaint also points to the legal basis for holding the Defendant responsible for that harm.


The Defendant is then given time to give his side of the story (known as the "Answer").  The Defendant can also file counter-claims against the Plaintiff, ask the Plaintiff to clarify things or correct deficincies in the original Complaint (known as "Replies").  The Defendant can also ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit in whole or in part.  Once the Plaintiff and Defendant have completed the Complaint, Answer, and Replies, the question the Court need to resolve have been defined.



The time when the parties to a lawsuit gather information from each other and from others about things relevant to the case is known as "Discovery".  The Discovery phase is the longest part of the case.  It starts soon after a lawsuit is filed and may continue up until trial.  It is meant to help each side learn more about the case, assess strengths and weaknesses, and identify defenses.  


To gather the information each side may request the other to admit to certain facts, share documents, provide answers to written questions (known as "interrogatories"), and conduct interviews with witnesses that are sworn under oath (known as "depositions").



Before trial the parties may file papers with the court to ask it to rule or act (known as "motions") upon a certain thing.  Motions may seek, among other things:


  • A party to produce documents 

  • Ruling on a procedural dispute 

  • Exclusion of evidence from trial 

  • To dismiss all or part of the Plaintiff's case or Defendant's defenses


Right before trial begins, each party gives the presiding Judge a document called a brief that outlines the arguments and evidence to be used at trial.



A trial is when both parties come before a jury and ask it to decide what happened based on the evidence.  In certain instances a judge can also make the decision in what is known as a "bench trial". A Trial generally follows certain steps including jury selection, openings, Plaintiff's case, Defendant's case, and Summations.



In a jury trial, both parties question potential jurors (known as "voire dire") to decide which of the potential jurors will be the actual jurors. Those chosen jurors will ultimately decide whether the Defendant is guilty or not guilty..



Once the trial begins each side gives an Opening Statement, previewing what they intend the evidence to show during the course of the trial.



The Plaintiff's then begins by presenting evidence of what happened and why the Defendant is responsible. This is done through witness testimony, documents, and exhibits. After each witness testifies to what happened, the other side can then cross examine that witness. The Defendant may, if he chooses, put on his own case which uses the same procedure. If the Defendant has presented their own case, then subject to the Court's discretion, the Plaintiff may be allowed to present additional evidence (known as "rebuttal evidence).



Once all the evidence has been presented, the parties give Summations (also known as "Closings" or "Closing Arguments"). During Summations each side argues what they contend the evidence shows.



After Summations, the court charges the jury on the law and the jury applies the law to the evidence.



After all of the evidence is submitted to the jury (or the judge at a bench trial), and they have heard the arguments, and been charged on the law, the jury deliberates on the evidence and reaches a verdict.



​Following trial, the losing party may file papers with a higher court (known as an "Appeal) to review the proceedings at trial. The reviewing Court will then examine the court records looking for legal errors made, if any. Generally, the appelate court will not review facts or override a jury's findings. If the appelate court finds a legal error was of enough significance it can reverse the verdict or order a new trial.



There are alternatives to litigation including settlement, mediation, or arbitrationThe majority of lawsuits that are brought that survive motion practice never make it to trial.  The reason is because most parties to a suit generally see it wise to reach some sort of agreement without the risk and time involved in going through trial.  A settlement can occur at any point in the litigation process.  


Sometimes, to reach a settlement the parties require the assistance of a neutral third-party referred to as a mediator.  This process is known as "mediation".  In mediation, the parties agree to have the mediator help, but the mediator has no power to force the parties to agree to a settlement.  The mediator's role is to meet with the parties, discuss the strength and weakness of the case, and help them find an amicable resolution of the dispute.  


Arbitration is another type of adversarial proceeding.  In arbitration, the parties slect a neutral third-party referred to as an arbitrator to resolve their dispute. An arbitrator acts much like a judge and jury, and after hearing all of the evidence presented and arguments from each side decides who wins. Arbitration is less formal than a trial and the rules of evidence can vary slightly. The advantage of arbitration is that the arbitrator's ruling is generally final and cannot be appealed.