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If you find yourself involved in a lawsuit, you are undoubtedly curious as to how the process will work and what to expect next. Even if you have counsel it is sometimes confusing and hard to understand exactly how the steps of a lawsuit will work. Obviously each case is different and the process of each lawsuit will vary to some degree. However, the basic process that lawsuits go through is as follows:
Lawsuits are initiated by the filing of a pleading, commonly 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 that the Plaintiff is asserting against the Defendants. The complaint is filed with the court and served upon the Defendants.
Once served with a complaint, the Defendants have their opportunity to assert their side of the story. This is done by filing with the court and serving upon the Plaintiffs 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 that 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.
The pleadings, namely the complaint and answer, as well as any counterclaims, cross-claims or third party complaints, identify the scope of the issues being brought before the court.
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 find the facts and evidence which they will use to present their case to the judge or jury.
The initial stage of discovery in Nevada is the early case conference. At this conference the parties turn over the documents in their possession which are relevant or could lead to relevant information as well as an initial list of all the individuals which they believe they may call to testify at trial. Finally the parties are required to discuss the possibility of settlement.
Following the early case conference the parties are allowed to engage in all mechanisms for discovery permitted by the rules of civil procedure. 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.
Throughout the life of the lawsuit parties are permitted to make motions to the court. Motions can range from requests for instructions to dispositive motions. For example, a motion could be made during the discovery phase to request that the court limit the scope of a request for production of documents that a party can make. Another example, would be a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is dispositive and essentially requests that the court enter an order stating that there is no way that a party could succeed on a specific claim and thus they should not be permitted to continue pursuing that claim through the lawsuit.
Motion practice generally involves the filing of a motion by one party. The other party then has the opportunity to file an opposition to the motion. The moving party then can file a reply to the opposition. Following these steps the court can either decide the motion based upon the documents filed or request a hearing and argument before making a decision.
The trial is the step in the lawsuit where the parties present the evidence which they have accumulated during discovery that supports 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, depending upon the type of trial, considers the evidence and enters a judgment. The judgment can be completely in favor of one party or the other or could 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 of the trial has the opportunity to appeal the determination of the judge or jury. An appeal allows the dissatisfied party the opportunity to identify issues which it believes were improperly decided at some point during the process of the lawsuit 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 and remanding the matter to the lower court to resolve the error.
Posted on January 16, 2015 by J. Mahe
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