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The chronology of litigation

If you have never been involved in a lawsuit against another person's insurance company, you might have only a vague idea of the chronology of litigation from beginning to resolution.

Civil actions are initiated with a formal complaint that details the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant(s). Complaints are usually -- but not necessarily -- drafted and filed by attorneys.

Once in receipt of the plaintiff's complaint, the ball remains in the defendant's court to answer the allegations therein. Defendants' responses must be timely (within two to three weeks in most cases) and must address the issues listed in the complaint.

Defendants also may list counter claims against plaintiffs and other parties as part of their response, although this isn't mandatory. Failing to respond to litigation as a defendant is never a good idea, as it will usually result in a default judgment being granted in favor of the plaintiff. All counterclaims made by the defendant must then also be timely answered by the plaintiff.

The next step is the discovery phase, where both plaintiff and defendant(s) attempt to elicit information and documentation through depositions, interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Information obtained during the discovery phase is used to flesh out a case in preparation for litigation in court.

Not all lawsuits wind up in courtrooms, thankfully, as litigating each case would strain an overburdened system immensely and cause it to grind to a halt. It's at this point -- after discovery but prior to trial -- where most cases are resolved through settlement negotiations, arbitration or mediation.

Defendants often file motions to dismiss portions of the plaintiff's complaint or get it tossed out entirely. Some cases must be refiled in other courts due to procedural errors or limitations. If no resolution has been reached, lawsuits are then set for trial on their merits.

Source: FindLaw, "What to Expect - A Lawsuit Chronology," accessed July 28, 2017

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