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Anatomy of a Lawsuit, Part One

Jul 8, 2008
Hopefully, you have been fortunate enough to avoid having to pursue or defend a lawsuit and will not have to do so in the future. However, in the event that you do find yourself entangled in civil litigation, the following is a brief description of the process which consists of five phases: Pleadings, Discovery, Motion for Summary Judgment, Arbitration and Trial. This article will cover the pleadings, discovery and summary judgment motions phases of a lawsuit.

Pleadings
The Pleadings stage is the beginning of a lawsuit. Once the parties decide that a dispute cannot be resolved and court intervention is required, the injured party, or Plaintiff, files a Complaint with the court. A Complaint is the written document starting the lawsuit and it sets forth the Plaintiff's dispute with the other party, the Defendant. The Complaint also describes what the Plaintiff seeks to recover in the lawsuit. Once the Complaint is filed and served upon the Defendant, the Defendant is required to respond to the allegations and set forth any defenses in an Answer. Thereafter, the Plaintiff files a Reply to the defenses contained in the Answer. Then, the Pleadings stage is over.

Discovery
After the pleadings stage, the parties may engage in Discovery in order to prepare for arbitration or trial. The purpose of Discovery is to allow each party to learn about the other party's case such as what witnesses will be called to testify and what each will say. In addition, each party can ask the other what documents or other evidence will be used in the lawsuit. In Discovery, each party can send written questions to the other side (Interrogatories) and ask that the other party provide copies of relevant documents (Requests for Production). Each party can also take the Deposition of the other party, which is an interview under oath regarding the subject matter of the case. Other witnesses can be subpoenaed for Depositions and either party can issue Subpoenas for relevant documents from people other than the other party. If properly done, the Discovery process ensures that there will be no surprises at the arbitration or trial.

Summary Judgment Motions
After completion of the Pleadings and Discovery phases, one party may feel so confident in the strength of his or her case that he or she will feel that a trial is not necessary. In such a case, that party will ask the judge to decide in his or her favor before trial by granting Summary Judgment. The procedure involves the party filing a Summary Judgment Motion explaining why he or she feels so strongly about the evidence and asking for a judgment without a trial. Then, the other party must file a response explaining that there is evidence supporting his or her case and a trial is necessary. If the Summary Judgment Motion is granted, judgment is entered and the case is over. If the Motion is denied, the case proceeds to arbitration or trial.

Once the Pleadings, Discovery and Summary Judgment Motion phases are complete, the lawsuit is ready to go to arbitration or trial.
About the Author
Tim Rayne is the author of numerous publications on Personal Injury Law and is a graduate of the Temple University Beasley School of Law's Master's in Trial Advocacy Program. Tim can be reached at http://www.macelree.com/traynelaw.
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