What to Expect During Your Case
Every case is different, but clients like to have an idea of what to expect from litigation so I provide this general overview.
1. Pre-Litigation (1 week to 1 year+)
Litigation is the process of settling a dispute through the court system. The pre-litigation stage is everything that happens before we file a lawsuit in court.
We will have administrative work to do. I will need to get information about you, the incident for which I am representing you, and the damages you have suffered. I will get documents and records from you and other sources. I may need to get medical authorization from you to procure your medical records and bills. If the case involves a wrongful death, I will open an estate for the deceased in probate court.
During this time, I will also be communicating on your behalf with the at-fault insurance company, business, and/or individual. I will give them notice of our dispute, instruct them on their obligations to take actions to preserve all potential evidence, and forbid them from contacting you.
In many cases, we make a demand for settlement before filing a lawsuit. If the opposing party makes an offer of settlement, I will advise you whether I believe you should accept or reject the offer. The decision is yours – if you decide you want to settle the case will be over, and if you decide to reject the offer, we will most likely file a lawsuit.
2. Early Litigation (1-4 months average)
A court case begins when we file a lawsuit, which is called a “complaint.” The complaint will lay out basic facts and a general argument for why the defendant is responsible for your damages. Some complaints are very detailed and dozens of pages long, some are very simple and just a couple pages.
After we file the complaint and depending on the jurisdiction, the defendant generally has 28 days to file a response called an “answer.” Some defendants elect to file various motions at this point to try and get the case thrown out on legal technicalities but if and when they file their answer, the defendant must admit or deny the allegations in our complaint. It is common for the defendant’s answer to deny most or all allegations in the complaint.
3. Case Management Conference
After the defendant has filed an answer, most courts will set the matter for a case management conference. These conferences are almost always for attorneys only and are designed to set a schedule for the case. At the conference, the court (either the judge or an assistant) will pick dates for trial and other pretrial conferences as well as deadlines in the case. These conferences usually do not last longer than 15 minutes in state court. In federal court, they may last much longer.
4. Discovery (3-8 months average)
Discovery is the stage of the case where we ask the defendant to produce information that we hope to use as evidence in this case. Discovery includes interrogatories – which are written questions that must be answered, requests for production of documents, and requests for admission. This is called paper discovery.
Discovery also includes depositions. A deposition is a formal question and answer session, under oath, conducted by the opposing attorney. In most cases, I will take depositions of the defendant, or its key employees/officers, witnesses, and experts.
Just as we will be doing paper discovery and depositions of the defendant, the defendant will also be doing the same to us. You will most likely have to sit for a deposition if your case has not settled by this point. We will work together before your deposition to prepare and to help you understand what to expect.
5. Pretrial and ADR (3-4 months average)
After discovery is completed, usually based on a deadline set by the court, some cases will be referred to arbitration or mediation to try and reach a settlement or arbitration award. These alternatives to a trial are called “alternative dispute resolution.” Sometimes they work, sometimes they do not.
Almost all cases will have a pretrial or “final pretrial” before trial is scheduled. This is a court date where you will have to attend. During the pretrial, the judge or an assistant will talk to the attorneys to see if they can reach a settlement. Many cases settle at this point. If the case does not settle, the judge will give the attorneys instructions on the way he or she conducts trial; judges have considerable latitude when it comes to conducting trial.
6. Trial (2 days-2 weeks+ average)
At trial, I will present your case to the jury and ask for them to find in your favor. The defense attorney will oppose us and ask for the jury to find against you. At the conclusion of the case, the jury will deliberate and reach a verdict.
If the jury’s verdict was caused by an error in the way the facts were presented or in the law applied, a party may file an appeal to the appellate court.
I could take pages and pages to describe the trial process itself. Suffice to say: if we have a case that goes to trial you will be seeing a lot of me in the months and weeks leading up to trial and we will walk into that courtroom prepared and confident.
- Your case could settle at any point in the above timeline. I will be actively be negotiating and attempting to achieve your goals as we march through the process to get to trial. The best results are achieved, however, when we are ready, willing, and able to present your case to the jury. For that reason, I work all my cases up under the assumption that we will go to trial.
- This is a general timeline patterned on state court in Ohio. Every case is different. If I am your attorney, I am happy to explain this process in greater detail so you understand the process.
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