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Litigation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

You likely have many questions if you are involved in a legal dispute. This article offers answers and additional resources to frequently asked questions (FAQ) you may have when preparing to sue someone or in preparation to respond to a lawsuit.

Commons Questions Before You Sue

The first step in deciding whether to sue someone is whether you have a cause of action. Given the time, effort, and money involved in a lawsuit, you should carefully consider whether filing a lawsuit is worth it. Consider contacting an attorney near you to get legal advice regarding your potential claim.

  • Do I have a valid legal claim? The first question to ask yourself is whether you have an actionable legal matter. Many disputes or disagreements are not legally actionable. Additionally, you should determine whether you can sue the person or entity who caused you harm.
  • How strong is my case? Even with a valid legal claim, you should consider whether you can prevail in your lawsuit. Consider doing research at a law library regarding your cause of action to see what you must prove to win your case. Bringing a lawsuit can be very expensive, so you should determine beforehand whether filing a lawsuit is worth the time and effort.
  • Do I have a criminal or civil case? Understanding the difference between civil and criminal cases is essential when deciding whether to sue someone. Civil cases typically involve a breach of a duty or a debt owed to another. For example, you may have a civil case against someone who damaged your personal property or failed to provide adequate care to you. Alternatively, you may have a criminal case if the person or entity committed a crime that harmed you. The government brings criminal charges against a criminal suspect.
  • Are there any downsides to filing a lawsuit? A lawsuit can take a lot of time, effort, and money to pursue. It can also be very stressful. Additionally, certain cases may require you to relive trauma or reveal embarrassing information. Be sure to weigh these factors and compare them to the benefits you may receive if you win the case. For many, the potential benefits may outweigh the stress and expense of pursuing the claim.
  • How much does a lawsuit cost? Lawsuits do not necessarily have to break the bank. For example, small claims courts are designed to allow parties to resolve their disputes promptly with few expenses. Such cases are relatively inexpensive despite filing fees. However, complex civil litigation can cost thousands or millions of dollars in attorney's fees, especially if expert witnesses testify.
  • How do I file a lawsuit? Your local courthouse likely has the court forms you need to file a lawsuit. Consider contacting the local court clerk to assist you in filing a lawsuit. Local court rules for filing will depend on your state's laws. Additionally, you must file the case in the proper venue and in a court with jurisdiction.

Determining whether you have an actionable claim that you can prevail on is the first step of litigation. Then, consider the costs, risks, and benefits of filing a claim. Once you decide whether to file your claim, the next step is to determine if you should represent yourself or hire an attorney.

Legal Representation FAQ

An attorney can provide you with helpful legal advice regarding your case. The following resources and answers to FAQ regarding attorneys may prove beneficial as you prepare for your lawsuit:

  • Can I afford to hire a lawyer? The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that courts appoint attorneys to indigent criminal defendants. However, if you plan to file or respond to a civil lawsuit, you do not have a constitutional right to an attorney. Some attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means they only get paid if they win your case. Other attorneys will charge an hourly fee. Before you retain an attorney, be sure you understand how they expect to collect their attorney fee.
  • Can I represent myself in court? You can always choose to represent yourself in a legal dispute. This is known as proceeding pro se. Your local bar association likely provides self-help resources if you decide to represent yourself. Additionally, the court clerk at the clerk's office of your local courthouse may have legal aid resources for you. In small claims court or minor civil matters, you may be able to represent yourself effectively. However, even minor legal disputes can involve complicated questions of both law and fact.
  • How do I find a good lawyer? Choosing the right lawyer is perhaps the most important decision you can make while pursuing or defending a legal claim. Of course, hiring a skilled attorney is essential. However, you should also interview and choose a lawyer you believe genuinely has your best interests in mind instead of one who sees you as just another payday. FindLaw has a directory of attorneys in your area, which you can use to select your attorney.

Although hiring an attorney to represent you in a lawsuit can be expensive, the legal help they may provide can be the difference between winning and losing your case. If your case goes to trial, an experienced attorney can be an invaluable resource, both financially and for your emotional well-being.

FAQ About the Court Process

The court process is foreign to most non-legal professionals. Below are FAQ and additional resources to prepare you for participating in the various court systems.

  • What are the stages of a lawsuit? Lawsuits involve many steps, which may differ in each case. Generally, the chronology of a civil case begins with filing the lawsuit and serving the defendants with notice. This process is known as the service of process, and you may have to file an affidavit of service. Typically, the parties will then conduct discovery, which may include filing subpoenas to compel parties to appear in court or produce documents. Then, the case will either settle or go to trial. Parties may typically appeal a trial court decision or jury verdict.
  • Where should I file my lawsuit? Whether you file your lawsuit in state or federal court, the court needs to have personal jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction over the cause of action to hear your case. Often, you may file your lawsuit at the courthouse in the county where the defendant lives or where the harm giving rise to your cause of action occurred. However, rules regarding a court's jurisdiction can be tricky. Moreover, if you file your case in the wrong venue, it can significantly impact your case.
  • Is my case right for a small claims court? Parties may file minor civil claims in their state's small claims court to quickly and inexpensively resolve their legal disputes. Most state's small claims divisions may only hear disputes up to a certain dollar amount. In some states, you may file a claim exceeding the jurisdictional limit. Doing so, however, constitutes a waiver to collect any money above and beyond the court's limit. A court clerk at your local courthouse can provide specific information about filing a small claims case in your state.
  • What is alternative dispute resolution (ADR)? There are many methods to resolve a legal dispute without going to court. These methods, such as arbitration and mediation, are usually less formal and expensive than a court hearing. Given that approximately 95% of civil cases are settled, you will likely participate in ADR sometime in your lawsuit.
  • Is it better to have a jury or a judge decide my case? There is no way to make a blanket statement about whether a jury or bench trial is better for your case. Whether you should try your case before a judge or a jury depends on the facts and nature of your case. A jury trial takes place in front of a jury of your peers. If you believe you or your attorney can present your case in a way that paints you in a sympathetic light, you may prefer to have a jury trial. Jury trials, however, are typically more expensive than a bench trial. In a bench trial, a judge will decide the case. Bench trials often are not as formal as jury trials, so if you are proceeding pro se, you may want to consider a bench trial rather than a jury trial.
  • When does a lawsuit go to the Supreme Court? The U.S. Supreme Court is a court of last resort. It is at the very top of the United States court system. The U.S. Supreme Court considers approximately 80 cases per year. Therefore, your case likely will not go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Most states, however, also have a state Supreme Court. If you appeal the trial and appellate court's judgments, your state's highest court may consider the case.
  • What happens if I don't go to my court date? If you do not appear for your court date, it can significantly impact your case. For example, the court may issue a default judgment in the other party's favor. The other party will likely win the case if the court issues such a judgment.

The court process can be confusing even for an experienced attorney. Whether you are filing a case in state court or federal court, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you to help navigate the court system.

FAQ About Case Results

Whether you win or lose your case, you must take additional steps. The following FAQ cover what to do immediately before resolving a claim, as well as what to do after your issue is resolved:

  • Should I accept a settlement offer? Whether you should accept a settlement offer depends entirely on your case. A settlement offer of $150,000.00 may be a great settlement in one case but a horrible settlement in another. There is a give-and-take element in settlement negotiations. An experienced attorney who has an understanding of your case can provide legal advice regarding whether you should accept the settlement or not.
  • Is a money award to the plaintiff the only possible case outcome? No, your case may not involve a money award at all. For example, your case may involve the return of personal property, or you may be trying to prevent someone from taking a particular action. Many requests for relief involve no money at all. Additionally, even in cases where a judge or jury awards money to a party, the losing party may still be able to recover costs.
  • What happens if I lose the lawsuit? If you lose your court case, you may have to pay money, return property, or stop taking action. The relief granted to the prevailing party depends on the cause of action and the relief requested. If the court order includes a monetary award, the judgment debtor must usually pay the judgment creditor.
  • Can I appeal if I lose my lawsuit? You can typically appeal a court's decision or a jury's verdict. If you believe, for example, that the court incorrectly interpreted a rule, you can appeal the case to the Court of Appeals. You can typically appeal from the appellate court's decision as well. In federal court, you can appeal from the district court to the circuit court. On appeal, you generally cannot introduce new evidence; the reviewing court will only consider the court records from the prior legal proceedings.
  • How long does it take to finish a litigated case? Some lawsuits are resolved within a few weeks or months after the plaintiff files their case. Other lawsuits may take years to resolve. The case's complexity typically determines how long the case will take before resolution.

Whether you should settle your case or go to trial is a significant decision. An experienced lawyer can provide crucial legal advice regarding your options and what makes sense for your case.

Contact an Attorney

Both civil and criminal cases may involve complicated legal and factual questions. An experienced attorney can provide helpful advice regarding your legal issues and protect your legal interests. For example, an attorney can provide you with information regarding the following:

  • Legal help for your case, such as defense and litigation strategy
  • What type of case you have and whether you should file a lawsuit
  • Legal advice regarding settlement negotiations
  • General information about criminal and civil litigation

If you are involved in a civil or criminal case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney or a criminal defense attorney near you.

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