What Happens When A Lawsuit is Filed Against You?

A lawsuit is a claim filed by one party against another party (or parties) through the courts of law. These tend to be civil action lawsuits, meaning that there is no allegation of criminal misconduct involved. 

The party that files the claim is known as a plaintiff. They are the party that has alleged they have lost something at the hands of the defendant. The defendant is the other party involved and is said to have done something wrong.

What happens when a lawsuit is filed against you

The process of filing a lawsuit is known as litigation. The parties involved are referred to as litigants and the attorneys on both sides are known as litigators. 

The complaint

The complaint is what the plaintiff files to start off the lawsuit. This will contain a lot of different information about the case.

It must include the jurisdiction and venue where the case will be heard. The jurisdiction is the court that has the power to hear the case, and the venue is where the suit is filed. 

The complaint will also list the claim that is being filed against you, for instance negligence or a breach of contract. Additionally, it will contain the specific damages that are being sought out. 

If a jury trial is what the plaintiff is seeking, this will be mentioned in the complaint. 

First responsive pleading

When a complaint has been filed against you, you are the defendant. You must respond to the complaint within a pre-established deadline. This will be mentioned in the complaint, otherwise, a default judgment will enter. 

A default judgment is binding and a ruling in favor of one party, often the plaintiff. It is made based on the fact that the defendant has not taken any action concerning the lawsuit. This commonly happens when you do not respond to your summons or fail to appear at court. 

Your response should address all of the allegations that the plaintiff has made. You will either admit or deny the claims and should list counterclaims against the plaintiff. You will also need to mention if you wish to have a jury trial. 

Sometimes you may file a motion instead of responding to the complaint. This will look out for immediate dismissal of all or part of the complaint. This will be denied or granted by the judge. Both parties are allowed to appeal the judge’s decision. 

Pretrial discovery

Following the pleading, a scheduling order will be issued for the case. This will tell the parties all of the most important deadlines for the case. Once this has been issued, the case moves into the pretrial discovery phase. 

This is the information-gathering phase. Both parties are allowed to request information from each other.

This must be done in accordance with the specific requirements set out by the court. Failure to do so can result in a motion being filed to go in front of the judge and compel responses. 

Many times witnesses will be deposed. They will be questioned by an attorney in the presence of a court reporter who transcribes the responses exactly. These transcripts are then used in the litigation.

Motions

Motions can be filed by either side. They are ways to ask the judge for specific requests, such as a judgment or a dismissal of the case.

These will often be filed alongside a written brief to set out the argument for the motion and with correlating evidence attached.

The other party, that didn’t file the motion, is allowed to respond in writing. The judge may decide to have the attorneys for both sides orally put across their arguments. The judge will then make their decision. 

Resolution

Lawsuits commonly end with a settlement. It is estimated that less than 2% of cases will end up going to trial.

This is essentially both parties agreeing on an appropriate resolution to the case at hand. This is often in the form of monetary compensation.

A settlement can be decided before, during, or after a case has reached court. This means that the case does not need to go to trial, saving both parties time and money. 

Trial

If the case has not been resolved or settled, it will get taken to trial. You can have either a bench trial or a jury trial. In bench trials, the judge will make the ultimate decision. In jury trials, it is up to the jury members to make the decision. 

Trials are a lot of work on behalf of the attorneys. They must present witnesses, arguments, and briefs in court to support the side’s arguments.

The burden of proof falls onto the plaintiff, meaning that they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that they have suffered due to your actions or negligence. 

Once the final decision has been made, post-trial briefs and motions can be submitted. The judgment may also be appealed. 

Appeal

This happens when one or more parties are dissatisfied with the outcome of a trial. The case gets bumped up to a higher court for a new judgment. There can be multiple appeals within one case.

Depending on the type of appeal being submitted, your attorney may need to seek leave from the court. This is a decision on whether or not the appeal will be considered. 

In some cases, your attorney may need to apply for a stay. This prevents the case from progressing while issues are being appealed.

Enforcement

Once the final judgment has been reached, the plaintiff can no longer re-sue you for any of the issues that have been discussed in court.

This is due to the res judicata doctrine, which is Latin for a matter decided. Even if they wish to sue you for the issues under different legal theories, they are no longer allowed to. 

If the defendant fails to comply with the judgment and award the plaintiff monetary damages, the court has many powers. These allow them to seize, any assets of yours held within the court’s area of jurisdiction.