The best way to describe civil litigation is people suing each other over money or property. These are not cases where the government has indicted somebody and wants to put them in prison. In most cases, there are private individuals and businesses on both sides of a civil suit. If the government is involved, it may be suing you over your personal property (as in civil forfeiture).
Walk Me Through The Steps Of A Civil Claim.
To begin with, before a civil claim even gets started, there is almost always an attempt at pre-litigation negotiations. These are attempts to resolve the dispute without filing a lawsuit. They may include informal or formal negotiations, mediation, or arbitration involving lawyers on both sides. If that negotiation is unsuccessful, then the civil claim process is initiated.
I often explain to my clients that this process is still sort of stuck in the 19th century. Cases move incredibly slowly. They can take over a year from start to finish, and sometimes longer. Still, if negotiation fails, the standard steps of the process are as follows:
- Complaint: The plaintiff and their attorneys file what is called a complaint with the relevant Court. This document is sometimes the first notice to the defendant that they are being sued. It is served by a process server or sheriff, and informs the defendant that they have a certain number of days to respond. It also informs the defendant that if they don’t respond within that time, a judgment may be entered against them by default.
The complaint itself explains what the defendant allegedly did to the plaintiff, as well as how the plaintiff wants the defendant or the court to remedy that situation.
- Discovery: Once the defendant answers the complaint, something called discovery begins, in which the parties exchange documents and information relevant to the case. They may also take depositions, which are interviews that are conducted under oath outside of the courtroom.
- Attempt At Mediation And Case Dismissal: After discovery, parties are usually ordered to try formal mediation before they can proceed with a trial. A mediator will try to facilitate a compromise and/or settlement between the parties, which may or may not ultimately be successful. Ordering mediation at this stage is especially common in Wisconsin state court cases.
Parties may also try to get the case dismissed through various motions, attacking the case on a variety of legal grounds and claiming it does not stand as a valid suit. If this does not work, and the parties cannot settle, then the case proceeds to the next phase.
- Trial: The next phase is the actual trial itself. Both parties stage their arguments in a formal process that involves witnesses, questioning, cross-examination, and other commonly understood trial stages. At the end of the trial, the jury or the judge will make a decision in the case.
- Appeals: If one or both parties are unhappy with the verdict, they may pursue a series of appeals, which go to different courts depending on the subject matter of the case. If those appeals are denied, they can be further appealed up the line until a party’s appeal possibilities are exhausted.
What Should I Do If I’ve Received Notification That I Am Being Sued?
If you receive notice that you are being sued, your number one priority is to see a lawyer ASAP. I had a case earlier this year where the client was notified that they were being sued, and for some reason simply decided to ignore it. By the time they got around to dealing with it, the time limit had passed and it was too late for me to do much for them, since a default judgment had been entered against them.
So, if you get notice that you are being sued, don’t panic, but do call a lawyer ASAP.
Should I Always File A Lawsuit If I Have A Dispute That Cannot Be Resolved With Another Party?
Just because you have a dispute that has not been resolved so far doesn’t mean it cannot be resolved without filing a lawsuit. Sometimes these matters can be worked out through expert negotiation without a lawsuit. Sometimes a lawyer can help with that, either by talking to the other person or by talking to the other person’s lawyer.
Can I Represent Myself In Court In A Civil Lawsuit, Or Must An Attorney Represent Me?
Usually, the answer to whether or not you can represent yourself in a civil suit is that yes, you can legally represent yourself. It’s stupid to do so, and puts you at a significant disadvantage, but you can technically do so when defending yourself as an individual from a lawsuit. However, you are not allowed to represent your business in civil court. If your business is being sued, you have to hire and be represented by an attorney.
The exception is in Small Claims Court, where you can represent yourself or your business (and may even be able to do so competently on smaller matters).
For more information on General Civil Litigation in Wisconsin, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (920) 759-8114 today.
If You Have More Questions About Your Case.
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