What is a Civil Lawsuit? Everything You Need to Know
It is common knowledge that when one person hurts another, the injured party can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. However, few people are familiar with the process of filing a civil lawsuit or the steps that are required once a person does. If you have been hurt, it is important to know that you can file a civil lawsuit to claim damages. It is just as important that you know what to expect during the process.
An experienced attorney from Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C. can advise on your case. Contact us today to request a free consultation.
What is Civil Litigation?
Civil litigation takes place in civil law courts, unlike the criminal justice system that handles criminal cases. Civil litigation involves one party filing a lawsuit against another to claim damages, or financial compensation, for certain losses they incurred as a result of another person’s actions or inactions.
At Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C., we mainly handle personal injury cases. In a personal injury case, one person’s negligence causes another person to suffer injury, property damage, and other losses. The injured party can hold the at-fault party liable for paying damages through a civil lawsuit. Car accidents, truck accidents, and slip and fall accidents form the basis of many personal injury lawsuits.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit. In New York, you typically have three years from the date of the accident to file your claim. This is true of car accident cases, slip and falls, and more. If your loved one was in an accident and did not survive it, you have two years to file a wrongful death claim. If you do not file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you will likely lose your right to claim any damages at all.
The Stages of Litigation
Here are the typical stages of a civil lawsuit:
File a Complaint
A lawsuit begins when the injured party, known as the plaintiff, files a complaint with the court. A copy of the complaint, along with a summons, is then served to the at-fault party, known as the defendant. The defendant must then respond to the complaint. In their response, the defendant must address all complaints made in the original document. They must also respond within 20 days of personal service or within 30 days if they were served in another manner. If the defendant fails to answer the complaint, the plaintiff can ask the court for a default judgment in their favor.
Once the defendant answers the complaint, the discovery process begins. During discovery, each side can ask the other for certain information. Interrogatories, requests for admissions, and requests for production of documents are all part of the written discovery process. In this stage, a lawyer may provide the other party with written questions for which they want written answers, or they may simply request certain documents from the other side.
Depositions are also sometimes part of the discovery process. During a deposition, both sides meet with their lawyers and a stenographer. Certain parties are questioned under oath, and a written transcript is then prepared. The parties directly involved in the lawsuit, as well as third party witnesses, may be compelled to testify during a deposition.
Negotiation & Settlement
It is important to note that negotiations between the two sides can continue throughout the discovery process and beyond. Negotiations typically occur between the attorneys representing both sides. If a settlement is reached, the lawsuit process stops and a settlement agreement is drafted and signed. If a settlement is reached at any point, the plaintiff forfeits their right to sue the same party again in the future, or to go back to them in the future seeking further damages.
Trial (If No Settlement)
If a settlement is not reached, the case will go to trial after the discovery process. During trial, the attorneys for each side will argue the case to a judge or jury. The judge or jury will listen to both sides before making a decision on the case. Once a judge makes their decision and issues certain orders, they become legally binding and all parties must comply with them.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
There is always a chance that a civil case will end in a trial, but that is not always the case. Both parties in a civil lawsuit are encouraged to enter into alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which may include mediation or arbitration.
During mediation, each side will meet together along with a neutral third-party mediator and their attorneys. The mediator’s role is to foster compromise between both parties so they can reach an agreement. If an agreement is reached during mediation, the mediator will draft the agreement and submit it to the court for approval. It is important to note that mediators do not provide legal advice and so, it is important to still work with an attorney that will ensure your rights are upheld. If mediation does not work and the two parties do not reach an agreement, the case can proceed to trial.
Arbitration is vastly different from mediation. During arbitration, both sides will argue their case to a single arbitrator, or a panel of arbitrators. The arbitrator will then make their decision and that decision is legally binding. It is generally not recommended that individuals go through arbitration to settle their civil dispute, as it can result in a forfeiture of rights. For example, if the arbitrator does not make a decision in your favor, you may not be able to appeal the decision.
How Long is a Civil Lawsuit?
No one can determine how long a civil lawsuit will take, but generally speaking, personal injury cases take anywhere between four months to five years. The length of time a case will take depends on the complexities of the case, and whether the case is settled out of court, or resolved in a different manner.
Get Legal Help Today
Civil lawsuits always have the potential to become complex, but our New York personal injury lawyers can help you navigate the process. At Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C., our skilled attorneys will effectively negotiate with the other side to secure the fair settlement you deserve. If necessary, we have the experience to take your case to trial. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.