The Litigation Process:

The Process of Litigation is how disputes are resolved in the United States. Although you have a right to represent yourself in the courts of the United States, the laws and the court system can be very complicated. It is strongly recommended that you ask an attorney if you think you have a case before proceeding. The Personal Injury and Business Litigation Attorneys of Sauter Sullivan in St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois extensive knowledge of the law and the depth of resources to consistently give our clients positive results. Our jury trial and courtroom experience is unparalleled in our community; we are in the courts virtually every day representing the rights and interests of our clients. Whether you choose the Law Firm of Sauter Sullivan or not, it is in your best interest to consult an attorney. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” There is a process that must be followed, including important steps that must be taken to give you the best chance of succeeding with your case if it ends up in front of a judge or jury. Here’s how the process works:

Making the Demand: Contrary to what some folks may believe, it is not always the best strategy to immediately file a lawsuit over a dispute. It is always in everyone’s best interest to try to resolve matters without going to court. A person who is considering bringing a lawsuit (the plaintiff) will usually demand that the person responsible for causing the alleged damage or injury (the defendant) take some form of action to resolve the dispute between the parties. The demand is usually in the form of a letter sent by the plaintiff to the defendant. If this demand after negotiating an agreement between the parties cannot be reached, the plaintiff may choose to begin the process of filing a lawsuit.

Petition, Summons and Answer: A lawsuit begins with the filing of a Petition which states the plaintiff’s position and explains why the plaintiff believes he or she is owed something from the defendant. The court then creates a summons which must be served on the defendant. Serving of the summons informs the defendant that his or her presence is demanded in a civil trial court on a given date to open the matter of the lawsuit. The summons is typically served by the local Sheriff, but can also be served by an investigator who is approved by the court to serve the summons. Once the defendant has been served with the summons, he or she has thirty (30) days to file a response with the court known as an Answer. Once the Answer is filed by the defendant or his or her attorney, the lawsuit may proceed forward.

Discovery: In some cases, issuing the summons and the petition may result in the defendant settling the issues quickly, prior to the lawsuit actually going to court. In other cases, where the defendant refuses to settle, the plaintiff begins the process of discovery, where the plaintiff sends the defendant written questions (interrogatories) and written requests documents to seek information from the opposing party relevant to the case. The plaintiff may then conduct depositions of the defendant and other individuals, asking them to verbally respond to certain issues regarding the dispute. These depositions are recorded by a court reporter for possible use in a trial. The plaintiff has a right to request copies of depositions for review. After the depositions by the plaintiff are completed, the defendant can use the discovery process to collect relevant information from the plaintiff. This back and forth process of discovery may take weeks or months for simpler cases, or even years for complex issues or where parties are not cooperative.

Settlement Conference: After discovery is complete, the matter can go to trial. However, in many cases, an attempt is made to resolve the issues prior to the case actually going to trial. This is sometimes referred to as a settlement conference. If a settlement is reached, litigation ends at that point. If the parties cannot come to an agreement or reach a settlement, the process of litigation continues and goes to trial.

Trial: A trial is the ultimate ending to a lawsuit. If a settlement is never reached, the dispute will be decided by a judge or a jury. Evidence can be presented at the trial to help persuade the jury or the judge of the truth of the position of both sides. As evidence is presented, the defendant may choose to settle the case immediately (especially if the evidence against him or her is strong enough) or if the case is weak, the defendant may ask the court to dismiss the case. If no settlement is reached or if the judge refuses to dismiss the case, the trial continues until its conclusion and a verdict. A verdict is a final decision by the judge or jury to determine which party prevails and, if the plaintiff prevails, how much the defendant must pay the plaintiff to compensate the plaintiff for his or her damages. The verdict of the judge or jury is turned into a judgment by the judge at the conclusion of the trial.

Collection of Judgment:  Although process of litigation has ended, the fact that the plaintiff has a judgment does not mean that the defendant is forced by the court to turn over money to satisfy the judgment to the plaintiff. Instead, the plaintiff must collect his or her judgment. The judgment is just a piece of paper which states that the court has recognized that the defendant owes the plaintiff a specific amount of money. The process of collecting a judgment can be just as confusing and complicated as the process of getting the judgment. Attorneys know what is necessary to collect a judgment. Just as with the process of a lawsuit, an attorney’s assistance is usually required for collecting a judgment.

Click here for a printable PDF flowchart of the litigation process.

Contact Us for a free consultation with one of our experienced St. Louis Personal Injury and Business Litigation Lawyers. There’s no obligation, and we take many cases on a contingency basis, where you’ll pay us no legal fees unless we win your case.