What is the progress of a lawsuit?
A lawsuit begins with a complaint from a plaintiff seeking “equitable relief” or damages from one or more defendants. The complaint identifies the legal, factual basis for doing so. The clerk of the court signs a summons, which is then served to the defendant, with a copy of the complaint. Once the defendant(s) receive a summons, they must file an answer with their defenses within a limited time, including any challenges to the court’s jurisdiction, and any counterclaims. The defendant(s) must respond to each allegation, denying it or pleading lack of sufficient information.
Stages of a lawsuit
Initial disclosures of evidence by each party, and “discovery,” or the ordered exchange of evidence and statements between parties, based on what each expects to argue during the actual trial. This discovery is meant to eliminate any surprises and pinpoint what the lawsuit is about. In some situations, the party will realize they should either settle or drop the claim, before wasting court resources. Pretrial motion filing will exclude or include particular legal or factual issues before trial by blocking the other party.
After discovery, the parties may pick a jury and then have a trial by jury (or proceed as a bench trial heard only by the judge if the parties waive a jury trial.) Each side presents witnesses and evidence, after which the judge or jury gives their decision. The plaintiff has the burden of proving its claims. Motions for summary judgment can be brought before, after or during the presentation of the case. These can be brought AFTER the trial’s close to undo a jury verdict contrary to law or against the evidence’s weight, or to convince the judge he should change the decision or grant a new trial.
After the final decision
Either party or both may appeal the judgment if unhappy with it, and if their jurisdiction grants them the ability. The appellate court and a higher court will then affirm the judgment, refuse to hear it, reverse, or vacate and remand (sending the lawsuit back to lower court to address an unresolved issue), or possibly a whole new trial. Some lawsuits will go up and down the appeals ladder before being resolved. After the final judgment, the plaintiff will be barred under res judicata from trying to bring the same or similar claim against the defendant. This prevents a new trial of the same case with a different result. If the judgment is for the plaintiff, the defendant must comply under penalty of law with the judgment, which is usually a monetary award. If the defendant doesn’t pay, the court has powers to seize any of the defendant’s assets within their jurisdiction, ie: bank accounts, liens, and wage garnishment.