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Blog: The Very Basics Of A Civil Lawsuit

June 3, 2015

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Lawsuits can be very complex. There are, however, some very basic features that almost all cases share. We will try to break down these most basic features for you in this blog.

The party who feels that they have been damaged files a Petition that sets forth their claims on why they feel they have been damaged. This party is called the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff then serves the party that they feel harmed them with the Petition. This person is called the Defendant. The Defendant files an Answer admitting or denying the allegations made by the Plaintiff. The Defendant can raise affirmative defenses, bring in another party or file a counterclaim.

The parties can then exchange paper discovery. The Defendant can serve written questions to Plaintiff called “interrogatories” to find out more about the Plaintiff and the damages the Plaintiff is claiming. The Plaintiff can also serve interrogatories on Defendant. Each party can serve a request seeking production of various documents, for example medical records if the Plaintiff is claiming a personal injury.

Once paper discovery is completed then the parties typically take depositions if they feel they are necessary. Depositions are sworn statements taken under oath and in front of a court reporter who takes down every word spoken by the lawyer and the witness.

After depositions then the parties determine what further work is necessary to get the case ready for trial. Many times this means securing depositions of witnesses who cannot attend trial.  This may include medical witnesses. The attorneys will work closely with the Judge before trial to resolve any evidentiary issues and generally get the case ready for trial.

A trial will then commence. A jury trial will be used if either party requested it at the outset of the case.  If not, then the trial will be “to the bench” or to the presiding judge. There will be a judgment rendered by either the jury or the judge at the conclusion of the trial.

Each party then has the right to appeal of they feel there was something procedurally wrong with the trial or that the outcome was reached in error for any reason.

A case does not have to go all the way to trial, however. The attorneys for each side are often in communication.  It is likely that the attorneys will discuss possible settlement at some point a case. In fact, it is reported that over 90% of all civil cases in Iowa settle without having to go to trial.

We will further explore written discovery, depositions and the very basics of a jury trial in the upcoming weeks.

This blog post is authored by Patrick L. Sealey and meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to provide legal advice in any particular circumstance or factual situation. You should consult with an attorney prior to taking any action regarding the information contained herein.

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