Although many people associate the term litigation with trial, the reality is that the life cycle of a typical civil litigation case is much more complex. In fact, civil litigation can be divided into a number of different phases, such as investigation, pleadings, and discovery, all of which take place prior to trial. While many claims are actually resolved before the need to go to trial, this is not always the case, so if you believe that you have legal standing to file a claim in civil court, it is important to speak with an experienced California civil litigation lawyer who is well-versed in all of the phases of litigation and can ensure that your interests are protected.
Pleadings and Discovery
How a case progresses through the civil court system is dictated by the rules of civil procedure, under which the stages of litigation can be divided into the following:
- The pleadings phase;
- Trial; and
Most of the civil litigation process involves the first two of the aforementioned phases: pleadings and discovery. Pleadings occur when the person who initiates a lawsuit, also known as the plaintiff, files a court document called a pleading, petition, or complaint. The person being accused of some unlawful activity must then respond to those accusations in a pleading known as an answer and can even assert a counterclaim against the petitioner.
Once pleadings have been completed, the discovery process begins, during which both parties gather information from each other regarding the case at hand. This information is usually collected through the interviewing of witnesses, the submission of written interrogatories, the requesting of certain documentation, and the taking of depositions. Discovery is a complicated process and so is usually the most time-consuming phase of civil litigation proceedings. It is not uncommon, once both parties have completed discovery, to attempt to reach a settlement agreement, as both sides will be aware of the strength of each other’s evidence. It is when these settlement negotiations aren’t successful that a case finally goes to trial.
Going to Trial
Trials can be held before a judge or a jury. In either case, the court will assess the evidence presented by both sides, including testimony from witnesses and any documentation or photographs submitted by the parties. Once the evidence has been heard, either the jury or the judge will determine whether the plaintiff has met his or her burden of proof, meaning that he or she has demonstrated that it is more likely than not that the defendant harmed the plaintiff. If this burden has been met, the court will then determine the types of damages that the plaintiff can collect in compensation.
Filing an Appeal
Once a court has issued a final judgement on a legal issue, the losing party has the option of filing an appeal. If an appeal is granted, an appellate court will review the lower court’s decision for any legal errors. Only when an error can be identified and proved to be substantial enough to have affected the outcome of the case will an appellate court vacate the lower court’s decision and return the case for a new trial, or reverse the decision and grant a victory to the other party. Otherwise, the appeals court will affirm the lower court’s decision.
Contact Our Riverside Legal Team Today
To schedule an initial consultation with a dedicated civil litigation attorney, please call Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP at 951-686-4800 or send us an online message at your earliest convenience.