If you are involved in a lawsuit, it can be a confusing and frustrating process. While there can be numerous delays and unforeseen obstacles to deal with, most civil lawsuits follow a similar schedule. Below is some general guidance in what you can expect in Florida’s civil litigation process:
- The party initiating the lawsuit (the Plaintiff) begins the process by filing a Complaint and a Summons. The Complaint sets forth the claims by the Plaintiff against the party being sued (the Defendant). The Complaint and Summons must be properly served on the Defendant.
- The Defendant has a certain amount of time to file an Answer to the Complaint. The Answer admits or denies the allegations in the Complaint. It also sets forth any legal defenses the Defendant has against the claims by the Plaintiff and any claims the Defendant may have against the Plaintiff (called “Counterclaims”). The Defendant also has the option to bring other parties into the lawsuit.
- If the Defendant fails to timely answer the Complaint, the Plaintiff may be awarded a default judgment against the Defendant.
- After the Answer has been filed, the parties begin the Discovery phase. This is the process whereby all the parties exchange documents and other relevant information regarding the issues in the lawsuit. Discovery can occur by Interrogatories or written questions to be answered under oath, a request for documents, and/or Depositions or sworn statements of witnesses. All of the information gathered during Discovery is used to determine if the case should be settled or to prepare for arbitration, mediation or trial.
- Throughout the litigation process, the parties can file motions to have one or several issues decided by the court prior to trial. The issues that can be resolved by filing a motion are those that are not in dispute, either because all the parties stipulate to the facts or because the law dictates a specific result under the circumstances.
- If the case is not resolved by some form of settlement, it will go to trial. The decision of whether to go before a jury or a judge is critical and should be thoroughly discussed with your trial attorney. At trial, the parties submit their evidence and arguments to support their side of the case. At the conclusion of the trial, a Judgment will be entered in favor of one party.
- Either or both parties have the right to appeal the trial court’s decision.
The above outline is a simplified version of how a civil lawsuit proceeds. If you are facing litigation, call us to schedule a free consultation. We can answer your questions and help you be prepared for each step of your lawsuit.