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The Pre-Trial Steps In Civil Litigation

Anyone engaged with civil litigation as the defendant, the plaintiff, or an interested party needs to understand what the steps in the process are likely to be. Fortunately, the process outlined in American civil law is well-structured. In the broad stroke, here are the steps you can expect to deal with as a civil case moves forward.

1. Notification

To be clear, litigation means someone is suing someone else. One of the first steps is for the plaintiff, the party demanding some sort of compensation or action to resolve a problem, to notify the defending party. This formal notice allows the defense to consider what's happening and explore potential remedies. Likewise, the notice should include a list of evidentiary materials that the defense needs to preserve. Notably, the defense can send a similar notice to the plaintiff telling them to preserve specific materials, too.

2. Initial Hearings

The first thing the court wants to figure out is whether the case covers any valid issues. A judge isn't looking for conclusive proof, but there should be evidence that some violation of civil law has happened.

Similarly, the court will want to determine if the issue is ripe. This means that things have arrived at the point where a civil court ought to intervene. For example, most judges won't humor a case if the two sides haven't made enough effort to resolve their differences without a lawsuit. If this is the case, you can expect the court to dismiss the case without prejudice and encourage the parties to carry on negotiations.

Both sides have the chance to ask the court to provide summary judgment during initial hearings. The court will also consider motions to dismiss at this time.

2. Discovery Requests and Depositions

The court will order anyone with materials of interest to the case to produce those items. In civil litigation, this discovery process typically means delivering boxes and boxes of copied paperwork. Each side will also have the opportunity to conduct depositions. These are sworn interviews where one side asks the witness questions at length. If the other side objects, they will register those objections. However, no judge is present, and objections are rarely handled until the depositions are introduced into evidence for trial.

If there is going to be a settlement, it will likely occur during this phase. Many cases end once discovery and depositions uncover damning evidence or testimony. Failing that, the cases go to trial.