Home Page

THE STAGES / PHASES OF A CIVIL LAWSUIT

By California attorney, Matthew B. Tozer Esq.

Pleading Phase:

Complaint / Answer: The first phase of a lawsuit is a pleading stage.  Typically the plaintiff or the party suing files a “Complaint” with the court.  The defendants are served with the complaint.   And then the defendants respond to the complaint most typically with an Answer to complaint which is filed with the court and served on the plaintiff’s lawyer

Discovery Stage:

Next, the lawsuit’s discovery phase begins. 

Interrogatories: In this phase, the lawsuit parties typically propound and answer written questions called “interrogatories.”

Document Production Requests: Both sides generally request and produce relevant documents (and documents reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence).

Subpoena Records: Sometimes records are subpoenaed from businesses and others. 

Depositions: Parties and witnesses will often be “deposed” (which is an oral examination under oath with a reporter present transcribing everything that is said.  Oftentimes, depositions are also videotaped).

Defense Medical Examination: In injury cases, a plaintiff will often be examined by a doctor or doctors selected by the insurance company’s defense attorney; this is sometimes called a “defense medical exam”; such doctor(s) will thoroughly question and examine the injured plaintiff, and, typically, write a report that is biased in favor of the defense.  

The discovery stage of litigation will often last an estimated 6-9 months

Pre-Trial Phase:

After the discovery phase, the pretrial stage begins.  This process involves disclosing and deposing expert witnesses (if any) as well as other trial preparation.  This process often occurs during the last 2.5 months before the initial trial date.

If a lawsuit is filed in your case which moves closer to trial, there will be a need in some types of cases to retain one or more medical experts, one or more liability experts, and, possibly, economic experts.  The Defendant’s attorney may counter by hiring similar experts.

Settlement Opportunity:

Generally, there are negotiation and or settlement opportunities (at various times through the litigation process) which are sometimes instituted by the parties  themselves, and sometimes the court structures such opportunities, for example, in California, a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) at the courthouse.

 Litigation Disputes:

Furthermore, sometimes the parties will have disagreements during the litigation of the case which they are unable to resolve themselves (for example, a party refuses to produce the requested document) and a party will seek the court’s assistance in resolving the dispute by filing a “Motion” for relief (or to compel action) and serve the opponent with the motion.  The opponent has an opportunity to oppose the motion, and the court will ultimately rule on the motion.

Trial Stage:

A trial can last one day, a week, or a month or more depending on the complexity and gravity of the case, whether the trial is a jury trial or a bench trial (non-jury trial), and other factors.

After Trial:

There is also a post-trial phase, sometimes a collection (judgment enforcement) stage, and occasionally an appeals phase.

The above is a simplified and very general description of the phases and stages of the litigation process.  The process can vary from state to state, county to county, court to court, from judge to judge, and from case to case.  This article only scratches the surface, as there are many other events, procedures, and processes that can occur during a lawsuit.  This article  is written from a  California  perspective.

 Copyright 2016.  All rights reserved.

Contact attorney Matthew B. Tozer for a free initial consultation.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is informational, only. The subject matter and applicable law is evolving and/or constant state of change.  This advice is based on California law.  No legal advice is given and no attorney/client or other relationship is established or intended.  The information provided is from general sources, and I cannot represent, guarantee or warrant that the information contained in this website is accurate, current, or is appropriate for the usage of any reader. It is recommend that readers of this information consult with their own counsel prior to relying on any information on this website.

Go to Home Page