The Process of a Civil Lawsuit

A civil lawsuit occurs when there is a dispute between people, business, or some other entities, which can even include government entities, that are not criminal. The usual process of a civil lawsuit includes pleadings, discovery, trial, and, depending the circumstances, an appeal. At any point throughout the proceedings, the two parties involved in the dispute can comes to an agreement, called a settlement, and end the dispute. Most cases end up being settled before the case goes to trial. If the two disagreeing parties don’t want to take the case to trial, they may decide arbitration is a better option.


The pleading is where the initial lawsuit is filed by the two sides. This is where they explain their side of the dispute. The process starts when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court about the defendant. A formal delivery of the complaint is also provided to the defendant. The complaint includes what the plaintiff is accusing the defendant of and how harm was caused to the plaintiff. It also describes the legal basis of why the defendant is being held responsible.

After receiving the complaint, the plaintiff is required to provide an answer within a certain period of time in which they are given the opportunity to tell their side of the story. If the defendant wishes, they can even file a counter-claim against the plaintiff which states that the plaintiff harmed the defendant. After the answer is received by the plaintiff, they then have an opportunity to respond once more in what is known as the reply. Throughout the pleading process, both the complaints and answers can be amended based on the responses by the opposing side.


The discovery process is usually the longest part of the case in which the two sides gather information from each other and from additional parties. They often research law, review documents, and interview witnesses to build their case. This process starts as soon as the lawsuit is filed and usually doesn’t stop until just before the trial.

Often the sides will depend on expert witnesses to explain technical information or to validate their side of the argument. They are also used to connect the defendant’s behavior with the loss suffered by the plaintiff. As this point, the sides may file motions which ask the court the rule on certain aspects of the case regarding the law or facts of the case. Sometimes a side may even ask that the case be dismissed.


Before the trial can begin, each side will present the judge with a brief which outlines the arguments and the evidence of the case. There are two different types of trials; bench trials in which only the judge is present and jury trials in which a jury makes a verdict. If the case comes before a jury, a selection process takes place, called a voir dire, in which each side has an opportunity to dismiss a certain amount of jurors.

The trial starts with the opening statements from each side in which they outline what their case will be. Then they present evidence which can include physical evidence, documents, and their witnesses. After each witness has been questioned, the opposing side has the opportunity to ask a set of questions to the same witness in an attempt to refute what the other side presented. The plaintiff presents their case first followed by the defendant. Sometimes the plaintiff may present rebuttal evidence following the defendant’s case. The trial concludes with the closing arguments in which both sides explain why their case labels why the defendant is guilty or innocent of the accusations. In a jury trial, the jury will deliberate before reaching a verdict.


If the losing side is dissatisfied with the result of the trial, they may want to file an appeal. During an appeal, a higher court is asked to review the proceedings of the original trial. An appellate court is presented briefs from the case and reviews to see if there were any legal errors. In most cases, the appellate court won’t overturn the decision by a jury based on the evidence. However, if they do find that there was some error during the case, they can order a new trial.

If there is a dispute between two sides that doesn’t include criminal accusations, they may solve the dispute through a civil lawsuit. At any point throughout the process, the sides can come to a settlement on the issues. While most disputes are settled prior to a trial, one occurs if they can’t settle the dispute. If you’re in need of legal support for a civil lawsuit, come see the experts at Yardley Law.


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