civil litigation

I’ve never been involved in a lawsuit, what can I expect?

This is a common question asked by my clients. The litigation process uses unfamiliar words and terms. The process itself can seem complex and the rules are difficult to understand and apply in a “common sense” fashion.

I strive to educate my clients both before commencing suit and during the litigation as to what to expect when appearing in court, for a pre-trial deposition or during motion practice and settlement negotiations.

Like all legal matters, lawsuits, especially those involving business litigation or personal injury can be complex and confusing, so I try and establish a personal relationship from the first time I meet a client. I will travel to your home to meet with you if you are unable to come to my office. I meet with my clients through all phases of a case from the time of the injury or occurrence through a trial or settlement. Unlike larger law firms, where clients get bounced from attorney to attorney, or worse from paralegal to paralegal without any contact with their attorney. I think it’s very important that you have one person you can count on to answer your questions and guide you through the process. I strive to be my client's personal family lawyer for all your legal needs.

Civil litigation is a time consuming and lengthy process.  I always try to move cases along as quickly as possible, but in most cases, it may still take a long time to resolve.  The speed at which a case moves depends on a variety of factors: which county the case is sued in, what judge is assigned to the case, who the opposing attorney is, how quickly records can be subpoenaed or discovered from non-parties and the complexity of the case. As a general rule the more parties to a lawsuit, the longer it takes. I am familiar with all of the local courts, judges and attorneys as well as their customs and habits and can give you a more educated guess on how long your case will take once all the parties are involved. I also understand that this process can be very intimidating and at some times, frustrating, and I want you to feel free to contact my office if you have any concerns or questions about your case.

Make sure that you maintain a log/diary of your case.  In your log, for example, if you were involved in a personal injury case, please keep track of all the pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of your life that you have experienced as a result of your accident.  If you are in bed sick for a period of time, make sure that this is logged.  If you had to call upon family members to help you around the house or assist you in your daily chores, please keep track of this information.  Your daily log will be very helpful to you in the future to recollect all the inconvenience and pain that you have experienced as a result of this accident.  Like most people, we have a tendency to forget the bad in our life and concentrate on the good.  However, the bad needs to be recorded so that you may refresh your recollection at a later period of time if need be.

I always try to return telephone calls within 48 hours.  If you have an emergency, please tell my secretary that you need a telephone call back immediately. I am often in court, and occasionally on vacation or away at educational conferences.  If you need a phone call immediately, please indicate this to the secretary so she knows that time is of the essence for your concern.

The following is a basic outline of how a civil litigation matter generally will progress.  This is not fully accurate or applicable to every lawsuit, but it will give you an idea of how your matter will more than likely proceed. I will use a personal injury lawsuit as an example, but the general timelines and terminology is applicable to all matters.

After I have gathered your medical records, no-fault/workers' compensation papers, and other medical records, and after we have fully investigated your matter, we will attempt to negotiate an acceptable settlement with the defendant’s insurance carrier.  If a settlement cannot be reached, we will serve a Summons and Complaint upon the defendant(s). A Summons and complaint are the papers that start a lawsuit in the court, in a lawsuit the injured person is called a plaintiff and the person or company that the plaintiff claims to have caused his or her injuries is called a defendant.

Within a certain period of time, depending on the complexity of the case and where the defendant(s) are located, the defendant(s) will send to me a document called an Answer which will set forth the defendant('s) position with respect to your complaint against them.  After this, by law, the defendant(s) and you are both entitled to extensive discovery from each other.  What this means is that each party is entitled to extensive information concerning the other side's position in this matter. The discovery material can consist of accident reports, medical records, photos, payroll records and other documents. This is often a very time consuming process to gather all the information.  Further, if your case is a construction accident case, the defendant may want to bring into the lawsuit other parties who they feel are also responsible for your injuries or there may be legal disputes between the defendants’ insurance carriers as to which insurance company should pay for your injuries.  This is often the most time consuming part of the case and it is at this point that you may feel that very little is being done.  However, this is a very important part of the process so please be patient.

During the discovery process, the defendant(s) will demand that we furnish to them a document called a Bill of Particulars. A Bill of Particulars is responsive document which outlines the specific details of your claim. For example, the defendants will want to know the exact length of time you were in the hospital, or confined to bed and the amount of loss you suffered in lost wages, all of these details are furnished in the Bill of Particulars which I will prepare with your assistance.

After discovery is completed and after we have prepared and sent to you for your signature a bill of particulars, examinations before trial will be scheduled, these are also referred to as depositions or EBT’s.  These examinations allow attorneys for both sides to question the other party under oath and discuss how the accident happened and how it affected your life. I will meet with you and prepare you for the types of questions to expect prior to the deposition. Although less formal than a courtroom, depositions involve sworn testimony and are recorded by a court reporter.  Sometimes depositions are rescheduled several times.  This is because it is often very difficult to coordinate the schedules of yourself, this office, the court reporter, the defendant, defendant's attorneys and, as in many cases, multiple defendants and their attorneys.  Please do not be surprised if the examination before trial is rescheduled (or in legal speak, adjourned) several times. A few weeks after the deposition I will receive and send to you a written transcript of what was said at the deposition. It is very important that you review this transcript carefully for any errors the court reporter may have made as the transcript can be used at trial.

Generally after the examination before trial, there may be some further limited paper discovery and then your case is put on the court calendar.  There is often a wait of six months to one year after the case is put on the calendar before your trial date will come up, if your case has not been settled prior to that. Generally, prior to the trial date, the assigned judge will schedule a settlement conference where the parties attempt to settle the case for a monetary figure. If settlement cannot be reached at this point, the case will proceed to trial. Generally 90% of cases settle and do not require an appearance by you in court. The decision to accept a settlement offer or to go to trial is yours. I will help you determine the value of your case so that you can make an informed decision during this process.

This generally outlines how your case will progress.  If you have any questions, or wish to consult with me on a potential litigation matter, please feel free to contact our office.

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Have you been sued? Do you feel that you have a claim against another person, a business or a neighbor for an issue that you can't resolve. Are you confused by the court system and don't know what to do or how to make a claim?


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