Understanding Civil Lawsuit Basics
At Fair Rate Funding, we are plaintiff advocates for justice. That is, we seek to help plaintiffs in their quest for compensation under the law. Defendants, especially in personal injury lawsuits, are usually financially strong insurance companies. Plaintiffs are normally individuals and are disadvantaged within the legal system. In this post, we respond to some of the more common questions surrounding the civil litigation process. Nothing contained herein is legal advice. If you have any legal questions, you should contact an attorney.
The Difference Between Plaintiff and Defendant
Civil lawsuit basics begin with the parties to the legal action. Both plaintiffs and defendants are roles played by these parties. That’s where the similarities end.
A plaintiff is the person or entity that files the lawsuit. They access the court system to seek justice for some sort of dispute. It makes no difference whether the filing involves personal injury or a contractual matter, the party initiating the lawsuit is the plaintiff.
The defendant, on the other hand, is the party who “defends” against the allegations made against them. That is, they must offer explanation of their side of the story in an effort to refute some or all of the plaintiff’s complaints.
How is a Lawsuit Started?
A plaintiff initiates a lawsuit by filing a COMPLAINT in the appropriate venue. The complaint outlines several important allegations:
- Why the lawsuit was filed
- Why plaintiff chose that particular court to resolve the dispute
- What relief they are seeking
In response, the civil defendant files an ANSWER within time provided by the Court Rules. In the answer, the defendant admits or denies the allegations mentioned in the complaint. Defendant also asserts any available affirmative defenses they might have.
An affirmative defense is a fact or set of facts which, if proven by the defendant, defeats or otherwise changes the legal consequences of the defendant’s conduct. Examples of affirmative defenses could be:
- Assumption of Risk
- Statute of Limitations
- Contributory Negligence
- and others. . .
Please note that the defendant has the burden of proof when asserting the elements of the affirmative defense. Plaintiff does not have the burden of disproving an affirmative defense.
Discovery is the Next Step
Once a lawsuit is commenced and defendant’s answer filed, the case goes through a period of discovery. The discovery process is when the parties exchange relevant information about the facts and circumstances surrounding the case.
The idea is to have the dispute decided based upon the entire set of facts and circumstances. Civil procedure rules thus require BOTH parties to respond to discovery requests as a pre-requisite to reaching a judge or jury. With both parties’ cards (facts and positions) on the table, settlement negotiations can be fruitful and timely. This saves the parties time and the court avoids the needs to spend its scarce resources on a claim that can be settled without the need for a trier-of-fact.
Arriving at the Courthouse
If the parties cannot settle the case, the lawsuit is set for trial where a judge and/or jury will decide the case. Civil law basics dictate the lawyers choose a jury, make opening statements and call witnesses to testify. Plaintiffs have the burden of proof and “put on” their case first. Defense attorneys will cross examine plaintiff’s witnesses, trying to draw out pertinent facts they want stressed or point out omissions or inconsistencies from their testimony.
When the plaintiff is finished calling witnesses and putting their side of the story on the record, the defendant has the opportunity to be heard. If plaintiff fails to meet its burden, the case can be dismissed on motion by the defendant’s attorney. If the case presses forward, the defendant will call its own witnesses (often including the defendant) and give their side.
The trial testimony is over when both parties put forth their positions on the record. Afterwards, both parties have a final opportunity to speak to the jury and argue their positions (closing arguments).
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The Trial Decision
After closing arguments, the judge gives the jury instructions. These instructions include not only the particular laws to apply to the facts of the case, but also how to apply the facts.
The jury, armed with these instructions and information about the law, go into deliberations and is responsible for coming up with a decision (verdict). Deliberations can last as little as an hour or two but can also last many days or weeks depending upon the:
- amount of testimony
- complexity of the laws which apply
- available remedies
At some point after deliberations, a verdict is rendered. The jury can find in favor of the plaintiff and award monetary damages or other relief. If the jury finds in favor of the defendant, they are stating that plaintiff failed to meet the burden of proof. Therefore, there is no cause of action against the particular defendant.
The Appeals Process
The judicial process allows for a system of appeals. Upon appeal, the parties are no longer attempting to sort out the facts of the case. That is the job of the trial court. The appellate courts are concerned only with matters of law as applied to the facts.
For example, if a judge makes a ruling that is found to be in error, the appellate court can reverse the trial court decision or remand the matter back down to the trial court. The appeals process can also take some time. The truth is – settlement is in everyone’s best interest.
Length of Time and Some Solutions
As you can see, civil lawsuit basics include many steps. Keep in mind, there can be more motion practice, numerous depositions and adjournments which can also increase the time it takes to get just compensation.
Civil lawsuits can only move so fast. Many plaintiffs, especially those involved in personal injury lawsuits, may find themselves unable to work due to injuries. The delay in their compensation can be a struggle to say the least. This financial bind can hinder their ability to secure fair compensation. There are some solutions available to litigants however.
One available solution is the civil lawsuit loan. A lawsuit loan is a financial deal where we advance you money prior to settlement. You use the money as you see fit and if your case is successful, you repay us according to the terms of the contract.
For more information about lawsuit loans and how you can qualify, contact us or give us a call at 888-964-2224. We are here to help and are at your service.
Thank you for your interest in civil lawsuit basics.