1. After being served a complaint and summons, an individual or group has filed a lawsuit against you. This process becomes known as litigation.
2. You will have a specified time frame to file an answer. An answer is a document that must be filed with the court that responds in writing to the allegations set forth in the complaint. It is wise to seek the advice of an attorney before filing an answer. The answer typically needs to be filed within a 20 to 45 day time.
3. If you fail to answer the plaintiff’s complaint, they will file a motion for Entry of Default Judgment. If the judge approves the motion, a formal Default Judgment will be entered ordering you to pay damages.
4. If you feel there is no basis for the claim(s) made against you, you may file a Motion to Dismiss. Again, it is wise to seek the advice of an attorney prior.
5. If a Motion to Dismiss claim is denied, the Discovery process will continue. Discovery allows for each party to request information including answers to questions and documents. Such requests will come in the form of Admissions, Interrogatories and Production.
6. Failing to respond to Discovery in a timely or factual manner can lead to severe legal consequences. However, the opposing counsel will typically file a Motion to Compel. A Motion to Compel asks the judge to enforce the Discovery requests against the opposing party.
7. If the lawsuit process continues, typically a party will file a Motion for Summary Judgment. This can be brought by either party and asks the Court to make a ruling based on the information acquired in the case as of that point. If the evidence is strong for either party, and the applicable law supports clearly one party’s claim, then a judge will make a ruling in the case based on the motion.
8. Most lawsuits then proceed into mediation where a settlement is hopefully reached between the parties. Typically this occurs after each party meets with a mediator who reviews the facts of the case in an independent manner and makes a recommendation. A settlement reached in mediation will be binding on the parties.
9. If mediation is not successful, or the case goes directly to trial, a judge or jury will make a ruling and enter a judgment at the close of all evidence and argument.
10. After the judge enters a judgment, the losing party will have to pay on the judgment. If there is failure to act or pay on the judgment, the winning party may need to enforce the judgment. This process requires that the party file a Petition for Contempt, have the opposing party served by a Sheriff and submit proof of service to the Clerk of Court to obtain a Court hearing. The Court will then use legal means necessary to obtain the judgment including garnishment of wages and other income.