The first thing that a person does in the Civil Court process is to file a complaint with the court. This is normally done by a lawyer but doesn't necessarily have to be. In a complaint a person will name the parties involved (including the plaintiff and the defendant), list their addresses, and then in a short statement tell the court what happened and reason for the lawsuit. There is a fee involved for filing a complaint which will vary depending on what part of the country you live in.
Once a complaint is filed the court will issue a summons. This is a document intended for the defendant informing him that a lawsuit is being brought against him. In addition to issuing a summons the court will place the case on the docket, which means it is set up for a trial date.
The next part of the process is called discovery. This is when all parties in the lawsuit and their attorneys will exchange relevant information that will lead to evidence. This is done through interrogatories and depositions. Interrogatories are written questions answered by parties named in the lawsuit. A deposition is where the attorney will ask a person questions related to the lawsuit, often on videotape. In both interrogatories and depositions all parties are under sworn oath.
From the time the lawsuit is filed to the trial date, settlement offers may be made. This is where the attorney representing the defendant will offer a sum of money to the plaintiff to prevent the lawsuit from going to trial. If these offers are either not made or rejected the trial will proceed. Depending on where the trial is taking place there may be a pretrial conference at this time. This is where all parties named in the suit will appear in court to see if the claim can be resolved before a trial.
Next the lawsuit will go to trial. This is where evidence is presented to a judge (and sometimes a jury) and witnesses can be examined under oath all with the intent of giving the court the information needed to rule in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant.
If the plaintiff wins a lawsuit the judge and/or jury determines how much money they will recover from the defendant. If the judge and/or jury rules in favor of the defendant the trial is over and the plaintiff gets no money.
All parties involved in a lawsuit in civil court are entitled to appeal any decision if they feel an error in judgment had been made during the original trial.
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