What happens when a civil case is filed?

The document used to begin a court case is called a Complaint. Filing is the process of giving the complaint to the court clerk (and paying the court's filing fee) to start your lawsuit. As the party seeking money, you will be known as the Plaintiff. The person you are suing will be the Defendant. Both of you will be considered parties to the lawsuit.

In the complaint, Simon Law will describe the bad acts that the Defendant committed, how these acts caused you harm, the damages these acts caused to you (usually injuries or money) and what you would like to the court to do about the wrong (usually order the Defendant to pay you money).

  • After a complaint is filed, your personal injury lawyer has to have it served on the Defendant. Normally, we have a person called a process server go to the Defendant's home or business address and hand-deliver a copy of the complaint to the Defendant. Simon Law must show the court that Defendant has received a copy of the complaint within 60 days after filing the complaint by filing a proof of service with the court. The proof of service is a document that the process server signs swearing he or she gave the complaint to the Defendant.
  • The Defendant usually has 30 days to respond to the complaint. The Defendant responds to the complaint by filing an answer or other document with the court. If the Defendant does not file an answer or other document with the court within the required time, then a Default Judgment can be requested by Simon Law.
  • As most complaints are answered, the next step of a civil lawsuit is the case management conference (CMC). This court date is usually set at the time a case is filed. Usually, neither you (the plaintiff) nor the defendant attends the case management conference. Instead, your attorneys go for you. The case management conference allows both attorneys to discuss your case with the judge. At this conference, the court will likely set a timeline for the lawsuit and may tell you when you trial date is. The court will also likely order all parties to attend mediation by a certain deadline, before the trial.

Assuming the judge orders mediation or arbitration, the arbitrator or mediator will be chosen together by both attorneys. A date for the mediation or arbitration will be selected. The location will usually be at the mediator's or arbitrator's office. All parties are usually required to attend.

If your case does not settle at mediation, there may be another case management conference. At this conference, your case might be set for a mandatory settlement conference and a trial date scheduled (if the trial date has not already been scheduled).

A mandatory settlement conference (MSC) is a court proceeding held at the court house before a judge. You are required to attend. The judge may discuss your case with you and will attempt to settle the case.

If the case does not settle, then you will proceed to trial.

  • Trials can be by jury or by Judge. A trial by a judge is called a Bench trial; it can be used when there is no dispute about the facts of a case but about the law, or for extremely complex legal questions. Whether you have a bench trial or a jury trial is a decision you and your attorney will discuss together. Most probate matters and all family law matters are bench trials (no juries).
  • Trial by jury begins with the selection of the jury. A group of candidates will be selected. Both attorneys will question the potential juror and eliminate those the attorney believes might be biased. This process, known as Voir Dire, it continues until the attorneys are satisfied with the selections or have used all their challenges.
  • Trials can last 1/2 day or much longer (months). A short trial is usually about 1 week. The length of a trial will depend on the number of witnesses, and the amount of evidence to present. At the end of a trial, the jury will issue their verdict. This verdict can be in your favor, which means you won, or against you, which mean Defendant won. If either party is unhappy with the verdict, they usually have the right to appeal. There are firm guidelines on both the procedures and time lines of the appeal process.