What basic steps are involved in a lawsuit?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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The basic steps in a formal lawsuit filed with a court include:

(1) Rejection of the demand letter (as well as rejection of the offer to submit the controversy to an alternative dispute resolution procedure)

(2) Filing of a complaint by the plaintiff

(3) Service of the complaint on all defendants

(4) Answer or demurrer by the defendant (a demurrer is a special pleading that basically says even if all of the allegations raised in the complaint are true, the plaintiff is not entitled to a remedy through a court proceeding)

(5) Cross-complaint or counterclaim filed and served by a defendant

(6) “Discovery” of the facts (informal and formal interrogatories, depositions, disclosure of experts, requests for admissions, etc.)

(7) Motions to the court by any party to the lawsuit (either to restrict the extent of discovery, compel compliance with discovery requests or to resolve issues based upon evidence revealed during discovery)

(8) Pretrial proceedings such as case management conferences, settlement conferences, referral to mediation or arbitration, preliminary motions to allow or exclude evidence at trial, pretrial briefs (statements of the facts and applicable law covering the issues to be presented at trial) and jury instructions (if required)

(9) Trial by judge or jury, including jury selection (if required), opening statements, presentation of witnesses and evidence through examination and cross-examination, closing statements, and jury instructions by the judge (if required)

(10) Rendering of a judgment by the judge or jury

(11) Post trial motions such as motion for mistrial or motion for reconsideration

(12) Appeal of the judgment

The steps presented above can take many twists and turns as the court proceeding evolves. While a lawsuit can start as out as a very simple matter, it can get complex very quickly. In addition to these basic steps, there are many other steps which may be possible depending upon the particular circumstances.

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