Understanding the Litigation Process: It’s Just Like TV, Right? Wrong.

Understanding the Litigation Process: It’s Just Like TV, Right? Wrong.

Understanding the Litigation Process: It’s Just Like TV, Right? Wrong.

Everyone has seen a television show or movie where an incident happens, a lawsuit is filed, the claim goes to trial and the entire process is concluded within an hour or two. Unfortunately, these fictional depictions lead to the misperception that once a lawsuit is filed, a claim will be resolved almost instantaneously. In real life, the process is not that quick. There are actually multiple phases of the litigation process which must be completed before a claim is brought to trial. Understanding the process is necessary to avoid frustration caused by the length of time it sometimes takes claims to resolve.

Initial Pleadings: A lawsuit is started by the filing of a complaint. Once the complaint is filed, it is served upon the defendant and the defendant is provided an opportunity to file an answer. In the defendant's answer it will raise any defenses it believes it may have to the plaintiff's claims. Additionally, during this stage the defendant may file motions challenging whether the plaintiff has a legally recognizable claim and/or may institute a fight over the proper court to hear the claim. Under certain circumstances, a defendant may try to remove a claim from a state court where it was filed to a federal court. When that happens, the question of the proper court to hear the claim ordinarily must be resolved before moving to the next phase of the litigation process which is the discovery phase.

Discovery: The discovery phase itself has multiple parts including written discovery, depositions and expert discovery. Written discovery may consist of interrogatories, requests for production of documents and requests for admission. Interrogatories and requests for admission are written questions which must to be answered regarding the factual basis claims and defenses and other relevant information which is needed for the jury to eventually understand and resolve the claim. Requests for production of documents seek disclosure of documents and other evidence which either supports or refutes a claim.

Depending on the type of case, there may also be inspections or examinations which take place during the discovery phase. For example, under certain circumstances, a defendant may seek to have a personal injury plaintiff be examined by a doctor of the defendant's choosing. Similarly, in product liability cases such as where a machine or truck or other "thing" is alleged to have malfunctioned, the parties may have that item inspected and tested by experts.

Another part of the discovery phase is the conducting of depositions. This is the time where the attorneys can sit down and ask parties and witnesses questions under oath regarding the claim and what the individual knows about the factual circumstances relevant to the claim. Additionally, the parties are provided the opportunity to question the opposing party's expert witnesses under oath regarding the opinions they intend to seek at trial and the basis therefore.

Motion Practice: Oftentimes, disputes arise between the parties during the discovery process which require court intervention to resolve. These disputes often involve the sufficiency of discovery responses and whether information requested to be produced is required to be produced under the relevant rules governing the pillar2.jpg litigation process. Additionally, motions may be filed asking a court to resolve the claims without a trial based upon the evidence produced during the discovery process or to limit the evidence which may be presented to the jury at trial. Only after the discovery process and motion practice process are complete is the case ready to go to trial.

Trial: Trial is the phase of the litigation process with which most people are familiar from watching television shows and movies. This is where there is a judge and jury and each side presents its case to a jury and the jury decides who is right, who is wrong and how much money to award in a civil case. Many may think that the litigation process is over once the jury renders its verdict. However, there is yet one more phase of the litigation process to be completed.

Post-Trial Motions and Appeals: Once the jury has rendered its verdict, the parties have an opportunity to ask the trial judge to set aside or alter the verdict if the parties can point to an alleged error which occurred during the trial, such as admitting evidence which should not have been admitted under governing law or an improper argument or jury instruction. Once post-trial motions are resolved at the trial court level, the case may be appealed to a higher court. In West Virginia, this constitutes an appeal directly to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. In Ohio, however, there is an intermediate appellate court which may review the case and either affirm the trial court's decisions or send it back. An Ohio intermediate court decision may be further appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Just as ordinary life is not always as depicted in television and movies, neither is the litigation process. The attorneys and staff at Bordas & Bordas have extensive experience in each phase of the litigation process and are here to help our clients understand and navigate the successful prosecution of a claim.

This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Bordas & Bordas and the user or browser.