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What Are the Civil Litigation Steps?

Whenever civil disputes between parties escalate to heightened levels of agitation and disagreement, civil litigation may be the only means of settling the issues. Civil litigation is a legal process that occurs after one party files a lawsuit against another party. It involves numerous policies, laws and protocols that are quite complex that only an experienced attorney can successfully navigate. In civil litigation, entities – including individuals, businesses and government bodies – seek monetary compensation or other types of restitution for wrongdoing or negligence instead of criminal punishment. With this in mind, there are four main civil litigation steps.

The Four Main Civil Litigation Steps

While we’ve provided the following civil litigation steps, keep in mind that they provide only a general outline of how civil litigation progresses. Note that extenuating circumstances can arise that can impede the process.

  1. Pleadings – Our list of civil litigation steps begins with pleadings. Whenever a person or entity files a lawsuit, both parties file initial papers known as pleadings, which serve to explain each side of the story. This step begins when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court and has it formally delivered to the defendant. The defendant then has a certain amount of time to provide the court with an answer, which contains any defenses that the defendant has to the claim and can also include a counterclaim. Once the pleadings process is complete, the second civil litigation step can take place.
  2. Discovery – Discovery is one of the most important and lengthy civil litigation steps. Discovery is the step where the plaintiff and defendant gather pertinent information for their case. This process involves collecting information from witnesses and other sources, conducting depositions and even making motions. Generally, under the guidance of the court, both parties decide the timing of discovery, while the court sets the trial date based on availability and scheduling matters.
  3. Trial – Trial is probably one of the most well known civil litigation steps. It is the time when both parties in the lawsuit present their case with supporting evidence to a jury or judge. During this step in litigation, both sides can call upon witnesses, present important documents and provide other evidentiary support to make their case. Following the presentation of evidence, both parties make their closing arguments. Then, the jury or judge takes everything into account and makes a decision.
  4. Appeal – If a party wishes to challenge a jury or judge’s decision/verdict, the fourth of the civil litigation steps goes into effect. During this step in litigation, the dissatisfied party requests that a higher court take a look at the trial’s proceedings. Generally, the appellate court only reviews a case for legal errors and doesn’t take any presented evidence into consideration or undermine the jury’s findings of fact. If the appellate court finds an error in the trial’s proceedings, it has the power to reverse the initial decision/verdict or even request a new trial. Further, appeals can lengthen the civil litigation time-frame by a year or even longer.

Keep in mind that these civil litigation steps serve as a general outline of how litigation progresses. If you currently need counsel or representation for a lawsuit, consider reaching out to our civil litigation attorneys here.

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