If you are thinking about working with a lawyer for the first time, you may have a lot of questions. They may use many legal terms that you don’t understand.
One term that a lawyer may use is “go to court.” This might come up if you are working with a personal injury lawyer on a contingency fee basis. For example, the attorney may charge one fee if the lawsuit is settled outside of court, another fee if the attorney has to go to court for your case, and another fee if the attorney has to go to trial.
Because of popular culture, when people think of going to court they think of a trial. However, a court case is only the last step in a series of actions that lead up to the trial date.
The American Court Process
In a civil case in the United States, a lawyer will often send a detailed letter to the opposing party or insurance company that explains the case and attempts to settle it outside of the court system. If the negotiations fail, then the formal legal process will begin.
First, a complaint will be filed with the court. This is typically a district court. In a complaint, the person who is filing the suit (or the plaintiff) explains their reasoning for the suit. Once the complaint is filed with the court, it must also be served on the defendant. After the complaint has been served (usually given to the defendant or someone at that person’s home or place of work), the defendant is given 21 days to answer.
Once the defendant has been served, if there is insurance coverage, the insurance company will usually step in and assign defense counsel. Defense counsel will file an answer and the plaintiff is given 21 days to reply to the answer. The complaint, answer, and reply are all considered court documents or pleadings and become a part of the court record. If the defendant fails to file an answer, the court may enter a default judgment against that party.
Once the pleadings have been filed, the parties are allowed to conduct discovery. During this period, the parties will send questions to each other called “interrogatories.” The parties will also request documents that have to do with the complaint including medical documents, police reports, witness statements, and repair estimates.
Once each party has received the answers to the questions, a deposition is typically set where a party will answer questions under oath. Both attorneys are usually present along with a court reporter who will transcribe the interview into an official court document.
Once discovery has been completed, the parties may try to mediate. Mediation is a settlement conference where another lawyer or a retired judge will work with both parties to try to settle the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties.
If the parties are not able to successfully mediate their dispute, then they go to trial.
Basic Outline of a Court Trial
If you do have your day in court, both parties will have the opportunity to present their arguments to either a judge or a jury. If the trial is before a judge, it is called a bench trial. If a trial is before a jury, it is called a jury trial.
Once the trial begins, both parties can present their opening statements, which are brief outlines of the parties’ arguments. Each party will then have a turn to present its case–including evidence, expert testimony, and witnesses. Once each party has had an opportunity to make its case, both sides will make a closing statement.
After closing arguments in a bench trial, the judge will deliberate and come to a decision. In a jury trial, the judge will instruct the jury on the legal basis that it should use to reach its decision and then the jury will deliberate to reach a verdict.
After the verdict has been made, a party can choose to challenge the verdict through the appeals process. In Nevada, if you lose your case in district court, you would file an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court. An appeals court will review the previous court proceedings and determine if an error has been made.
After reviewing the proceedings, the appellate court will release an order or opinion that either affirms the verdict or finds an error and reverses the verdict or orders a new trial to be conducted by the trial court.
Experienced Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorneys
If you or a loved one would like to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer for legal advice, contact Anthem Injury Lawyers today. We offer free consultations. Call us today at (702) 987-0202 to schedule a Free Initial Consultation.