By Ross Keilen
Lawsuits can be daunting propositions, whether you’ve decided to file paperwork that starts the legal proceedings or are in the position of defending yourself or your company. Court proceedings involve a myriad of steps, but relatively few cases go through each potential step. This trial process guide can help you understand court procedures and the steps required to complete the process.
What are Trial Procedures?
A trial is a legal process during which attorneys for a plaintiff and defendant present facts of a case to a jury. Each side presents evidence to support their version of what happened. The plaintiff is the party who initiates a lawsuit, and the defendant is the company, entity, or individual being sued or accused of wrongdoing.
Criminal vs. Civil Trial
There are two types of cases that go to trial. Criminal cases focus on enforcing the law, with the government bringing charges and prosecuting entities such as businesses, organizations, or individuals. Civil suits cover a broad range of areas, from business litigation and contracts to family law issues and personal injury cases.
Settling Out of Court
Everyone is entitled to their day in court. However, this is an expensive, time-consuming process. It is not uncommon to settle a civil claim by mutual agreement. This can happen at any time: before a suit is filed, before the trial, during the trial, while the jury deliberates, or after the verdict. A settlement doesn’t indicate right or wrong, and it doesn’t have to settle the entire case. Any remaining issues can be left to the judge and jury.
Once the plaintiff’s attorney files the initial paperwork, the defendant’s attorney has time to formulate and submit a response. The papers, known as pleadings, describe each side’s part of the dispute. Litigation begins when the plaintiff formally files a complaint with the court and notifies the defendant. The complaint details the problem and the legal basis for holding the defendant responsible. Response to the complaint, counter-claims, and appropriate replies can take weeks to months to work through.
Each party prepares its case during the discovery phase. This is often the longest part of the process, involving digging into all facts and issues involved in the case. It includes questioning third-party witnesses, known as depositions, expert witnesses, requests for copies of documents, and other investigative techniques used to obtain as much information as possible about the situation. Either side’s attorney may ask the court to act on the case’s facts or provide clarification or resolution relating to procedural disputes between the parties. A motion for summary judgment asks the court to dismiss the case in part or entirely without a trial.
Each side delivers opening statements to the jury pertaining to their respective clients, providing an overview of the situation. Evidence is presented in the form of documents, physical proof, and witness testimony. The plaintiff’s side starts by calling witnesses, and the defendant’s attorney may cross-examine each. Next, the defending party calls its witnesses, and the plaintiff’s attorney can cross-examine.
After each side’s attorney delivers the closing arguments, it’s up to the jury to determine the case’s facts based on each party’s testimony. If they rule in favor of the plaintiff, they may award damages in a specific amount to be paid by the defendant. If they rule in favor of the defendant, they could determine liability and award damages to be paid by the plaintiff.
Experienced Michigan Litigators
Court procedures are complicated. You deserve experienced legal representation, ensuring your rights are protected and achieving the best possible outcome. If you live in western Michigan, contact us to schedule a consultation to learn about your options, including alternate dispute resolution methods, and for an assessment of your case. Keilen Law has convenient offices in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Call (269) 382-4818 today!
Photo Credit: Crazy City Lady