Commencing a lawsuit can be a daunting and mysterious task. Many people who are thinking about filing a lawsuit may think of a scene in a movie where a plaintiff is yelled at and embarrassed in front of a packed courthouse. Others may ask themselves questions like “How much is a lawsuit going to cost?” or “How long is my lawsuit going to take?”.
Fortunately, the process of filing and participating in a lawsuit is far less frightening than Hollywood movies make it seem and the answers to the questions you may be asking yourself are rather simple and easy to understand.
The roadmap below is intended to provide you with the answers to these questions and to remove the anxiety that comes with the many unknowns of commencing a lawsuit.
The first step of actually reaching out to an attorney to discuss your case can be a scary one, but it doesn’t have to be nor should it be. The initial consultation with your attorney is normally an informal meeting where you will explain the facts of your case and how you feel you have been wronged or mistreated. Your attorney may ask you a number of questions regarding your background and will try his or her best to explain the relevant law to you to help you understand if you have a case. What is discussed in the meeting is strictly confidential and will never been discussed with anyone without your express permission.
During your initial consultation, your attorney will tell you whether your case will be taken on a contingency basis, where your attorney does not get paid until you win your case or settle your case, or you will be provided with an approximate cost to pursue your case.
Once you have met with your attorney and discovered that you have legal grounds to file a lawsuit, your attorney will draft a Complaint on your behalf that will lay out the broad terms of your case. It will include a brief background of your case, name the parties you are seeking to sue, and name the various causes of action (the legal theories of your case) you are alleging against the defendant or defendants.
The process of drafting a Complaint is primarily left to your attorney, however you will be asked to review the Complaint for accuracy and to sign the Complaint before it is filed. In certain cases, including those involving sexual assault, you may be able to file a lawsuit anonymously without ever having your name disclosed publicly. This option will be something that your attorney will discuss with you during your initial meeting.
After your complaint is filed, the Discovery Process begins. The Discovery stage of a case is where both the plaintiff and the defendants exchange evidence and answer questions asked of one another so that all the relevant facts of a case are out in the open. During this process, which can last months or years depending on the complexity of the case, you will be asked to produce any evidence you have that can help your case. This can include documents, emails, medical records or perhaps the names of witnesses who will testify on your behalf and support your story.
During the Discovery Process you will likely also be required to help draft answers to a number of questions that are asked by the defendant’s attorney. Your attorney will assist you in preparing your responses and will ask that you review the document for accuracy before it is turned over to the defendants.
From time to time during the Discovery Process, your attorney will likely touch base with you to determine how you are doing. If your case is one for a personal injury or for medical malpractice, they may ask you to provide updated medical records that show how your treatment is progressing. If your case is for wrongful firing, your attorney may ask if you’ve been able to find a new job in the meantime. Whatever type of case yours may be, your attorney will want to keep in touch to both see how you’re doing and to discover if any changes have occurred in your life that could affect your case.
In some cases, a settlement offer will be made by the defendants during the Discovery Process and will be discussed with you by your attorney. If you and your attorney decide that the offer is insufficient, you can reject the offer and continue on with the Discovery Process and with depositions of both the plaintiff and the defendants.
After the bulk of the Discovery Process has occurred, frequently you will be asked to sit for a deposition. A deposition is a fancy word for an interview under oath where the defendant’s attorney will ask you a number of questions about your case and the allegations you have made against their client. Depositions can seem intimidating and nerve-wracking, but in reality, they are usually a relaxed and undramatic experience where you will be required to answer questions about your background, educational and work experience, the basis of your claim and how the incident or injury has affected your life. Depending on the complexity of your case, a deposition can last as little as a few hours or as long as a full day.
Prior to your deposition, your attorney will want to meet with you to prepare you for your testimony. This meeting will usually last a few hours and takes place within a week of the date of your deposition. During this meeting, your attorney will answer any questions you have about your upcoming deposition and will help to calm your nerves so that you can testify in a confident way to best strengthen your case.
Following your deposition, the defendants may again make a settlement offer. You and your attorney will discuss the offer and either accept or reject it based on the strength of your case. If you reject the offer, you will proceed to mediation and possibly to trial.
Mediation is a process where the parties meet with an independent third party to try to settle a case prior to trial. Mediation is a structured process where the third-party assists disputing parties in resolving the lawsuit through the use of communication and negotiation. Mediation usually lasts less than a day and frequently, but not always, results in a settlement.
During and prior to the mediation process, your attorney will discuss potential settlement figures and terms with you based on the strength and details of your particular case in an effort to settle the matter prior to the expensive process of a trial before a Judge and possibly a jury.
If your case is not settled either during the discovery process or during mediation, your case will likely proceed to trial. At trial, both your attorney and the defense attorneys will lay out their sides of the case before a judge and jury. You will be required to attend the trial but will only be required to participate in the proceedings if you are called to testify.
Your attorney will likely call you to testify before the jury and will ask you a number of questions to highlight the strength of your case and why you deserve to be compensated by the defendants.
At trial the defendant’s attorney will also want to ask you questions about your claims to try to point out any potential weaknesses in your story to the jury. However, this is not something to stress about as you will already have prepared for and been asked these questions during your deposition. You will also have met again with your attorney shortly before trial to go over your deposition testimony and to answer any questions you may have about the trial process.
We look forward to meeting and working with you and to devoting our efforts to help you secure justice and fair compensation. You can reach Kramer Law for a free consultation by calling a 802-257-2221 or using our quick and easy contact form.
As our client, we will take care of all of the legal, privacy and insurance related issues surrounding your case so that you are able to recover and work towards a brighter and better future.