I like people that ask a lot of questions. But not every answer can fit in a FAQ. What follows is general information and is not intended as specific legal advice (please check out my disclaimer).
What is litigation?
Litigation is the legal process for enforcing your rights against someone else. It is the same thing as a lawsuit. Civil litigation (as opposed to criminal proceedings) starts with the filing of a document called a Complaint. The Complaint initiates a lawsuit against the wrongdoer. There are many steps and stages of litigation after the filing of the Complaint. The parties get to ask written questions, request documents, and interview people face-to-face. Once the parties have put together their respective cases, a trial is held.
What is the statute of limitations?
The statute of limitations is the time limit you have before you begin litigation. It is usually not necessary to have had a trial by the statute of limitations, just to have filed the initial Complaint. The statute of limitations begins to run at different events, depending on the nature of your legal claim. For most personal injury claims, the statute of limitations starts to run from the moment your injury occurs. The time limit you have before you have to file a Complaint is different, depending on what state or district where you claim arises. If you don’t file a Complaint before the statute of limitations runs, you are likely barred from pursuing the claim. For this reason, statutes of limitation are critical. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about a specific statute of limitations.
What is Discovery?
Discovery in civil litigation refers to the period of time in which the parties are gathering information and evidence. The parties involved in the lawsuit have judicial tools–such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and depositions–they use to get information from each other. The parties to a lawsuit can gather information from an uninvolved person, too, by either informally talking with them, or formally questioning them with the use of a subpoena. The discovery phase of litigation gives each party the opportunity to gather the evidence they need to present their side of the case at trial. Clients are involved in discovery, too. Clients get involved by answering written questions and answering face-to-face questions in depositions. In every jurisdiction, discovery ends at a specified time before trial.
What is an Interrogatory?
An interrogatory is just a written question to another party in the lawsuit. It is a very intimidating word that harkens back to a time when prisoners were locked away in dungeons. In civil litigation, an interrogatory is just one party’s questions about the case, no more. The frustrating part about interrogatories for most clients is that many of the questions seem irrelevant or personal. While some of the questions do seem irrelevant (and some are), usually the opposing side is looking for background, the identity of other people to talk to, or information related to legal arguments. In personal injury cases, interrogatories are often personal because the opposing side will ask many health and behavior related questions in an attempt to disprove that you are injured. You will be happy you hired a lawyer when it comes time to answer interrogatories.
What is a Deposition?
What lawyers most often mean when they use the word deposition is the face-to-face questioning of a witness under oath outside of court. Depositions provide lawyers with an opportunity to get further information and to see how a witness will answer questions in person. Whatever is said at a deposition can usually be used at trial. Depositions are usually scheduled in advance by agreement on a date and time. Depositions may be held anywhere the parties agree to, but are often held at a lawyers office. A court reporter will attend to transcribe everything that is said. Depositions can also be taken by sending another party or a witness written questions to respond to in writing under oath. Depositions by written questions can be used when a witness will be unavailable to attend a trial or if the witness’ testimony is simple and straightforward.
What is a Trial?
A trial is a proceeding where both parties to a dispute get together at the courthouse to present their case to a judge or jury. It is usually a continuous proceeding over a number of days or weeks. At a trial, lawyers make arguments and question witnesses to present evidence to make their client’s case. Trials can be intense. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury makes a decision to resolve the dispute. Jury trials are one of the fairest ways to resolve a dispute. The idea is that small group of local citizens listen to the evidence, weigh the credibility of the witnesses, and make a decision that both parties must live with.