Civil lawsuits are disputes between individuals, companies, or other entities that require legal action. The process of civil litigation is a series of steps that must be followed. It begins with an investigation stage, where a private investigator or your lawyer will look for evidence that supports your version of the argument. This could include forensic evidence, medical records, and witness interviews.
After the defendant has responded to the lawsuit, the judge will set a schedule for both parties to follow. This includes deadlines for discovery and estimated trial dates. The discovery stage is a formal mechanism used by parties to obtain information from each other and from neutral witnesses. It can take several months to complete and may require participation from the plaintiff.
After discovery, either party can file a “motion for summary judgment”, which asks the court to rule on the case and possibly resolve it. A motion for summary judgment can only be granted if there are no issues of material fact and the plaintiff has the right to have a judgment handed down in accordance with the law. If there are issues of fact, such as doubts as to whether a particular event occurred, the judge cannot grant the motion for summary judgment and the case must continue. At this point, it goes to a jury or other person who determines the facts.
The pre-trial stage consists of meetings and negotiations between lawyers on each side of the case. Motions may or may not be filed, evidence is presented, and most federal courts require that attempts be made at alternative dispute resolution such as mediation. In order to initiate a lawsuit, a petition must be filed with the court. Both parties involved in a situation that requires legal action should hire an experienced lawyer who represents them well and works for their best interests.
If there is disagreement as to what documents or information the other party is entitled to, a hearing is required for the court to determine the parameters for discovering the particular case. On the day of mediation, both parties and their civil litigation attorneys meet at an agreed location and mediation takes place. In Illinois (the Seventh Circuit in federal court), nearly 98% of cases filed are resolved before reaching trial stage.