Lawsuits and Litigation (Civil Litigation)

Also known as Lawsuits, Trials, Civil Actions, Class Actions or Claims

Most people think the law at work is very close to what they see on television.  Lawyers and clients go before a judge and jury and interview witnesses, show pictures and trade barbs with each other.  (Of course, the TV judge allows all this!)  In reality, when someone is sued or sues someone, there is an entire code – the Rules of Civil Procedure - which must be followed by attorneys for the people on both sides of the issue.  The purpose of all of these rules is to create an even playing field for everyone.  The rules describe the procedures that must be followed in order to present your case in the courtroom.  The process of following the procedures during the course of a lawsuit is called Litigation.  It is by litigating that we finally arrive in front of the judge or jury for a trial and try the case to its conclusion.

It goes something like this in Missouri:  Mr. Jones files a lawsuit against Mr. Smith.  Mr. Smith and his attorney have 30 days to answer.  If they don't file an answer with the court, Mr. Jones automatically wins (a default judgment).  Otherwise, Mr. Smith answers and the suit proceeds to the next step.

One very important part of litigation is called discoveryDiscovery allows each party to ask questions of the other side in writing and/or through live testimony.  In addition, each party is allowed to request all the documents, exhibits and evidence from the other side.  It is up to the attorneys to figure out who to ask, what to ask, and what to ask for and to analyze all these discovery materials and come up with what they think are valid legal theories that apply to the case at hand – either for their client's position, or against the other party's position.

Attorneys study the law to see how it can support their client's position in the suit, and write a pleading, which essentially pleads to or tries to convince the judge that the law supports the position of their client.  Or it pleads that the law does not support the position of the opposing party.  For each written pleading - a motion, memoranda or notice, the other side gets an equal opportunity to respond.  There are responses, replies, sur-replies, memoranda in support, etc., etc., etc., etc.

Luckily, the judge sets a timeline for all of this.  Otherwise, lawsuits could (and would) go on forever!

Finally, the case is either tried before a judge and jury, or settled.  The trial can last one day or many days.  At trial, both sides get to present their evidence.  The plaintiff, the person who filed the lawsuit, goes first.  He/she can present witnesses, documents or other evidence to support his or her claims.  The defendant, the person being sued, gets to respond and present evidence that shoes that the defendant is not responsible for plaintiff's claimed harm.  If a jury is involved, the jury decides who is telling the truth and who wins.  If a jury is not involved, a judge decides who is telling the truth and whether and how much the truth teller "wins" according to the law.


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