Understanding a Lawsuit’s Phases

Posted in Probate, Probate Litigation. Tuesday, Nov 24th, 2015

While lawsuits always present unique legal issues, the main framework of a lawsuit can be divided into three stages. First come the initial pleadings where the parties lay out their cases for the court and for the other side. Then, the two sides engage in discovery, where they learn more about what the other side knows and build a fuller case. Finally, if the two parties cannot come to an arrangement on their own, the case will go to trial and the judge or jury will make the final decision.

The Initial Pleadings

The initial pleadings are the first chance that both sides have to lay out their cases for everyone else involved in a lawsuit. Most cases will begin with the plaintiff filing a complaint. Probate cases have slightly different terms, and may begin instead with a petitioner filing a petition. Regardless of the name, the idea is for the person filing the suit to be able to put the other party on notice about their grievance. Then, the other party, either a defendant or a respondent depending on whether the case is in probate, files their pleading. This pleading responds to allegations in the complaint or petition, usually by disputing the truth of facts asserted by the petitioner or by raising other legal defenses.

The Discovery Steps

Once the pleading stage has ended, the case moves into discovery. Discovery is a complex area that usually involves a variety of hearings and meetings, but the crux of discovery is that the two sides are seeking information to help build their cases. In lawsuits both sides usually have information that the other one needs to get a full picture of the events in the case. Maybe one side has documents or only one party was present for some important conversation, such as what prompted a testator to draft a new will shortly before their death. Discovery allows parties to level the informational playing field by forcing the other side to turn over relevant documents and answer questions about the events of the case.

Discovery is also important because it is likely to provoke settlement. The American legal system is heavily biased towards settlement, with between 80 and 90 percent of cases settling before trial. This often happens during the discovery stage when the parties learn more about the other side’s case and are able to get a more realistic picture of their chances.

The Trial

Yet, sometimes even with all the information, settlement is not possible. This is often especially true in probate cases, where emotions can be running particularly high. In the event that that happens, then there is nothing left but to go to trial. At the trial, the attorneys will use the information gleaned in discovery to support their original contentions in the pleadings, and the court will make an ultimate decision about the issues in the case.

Of course, each case presents unique challenges and needs to be analyzed individually. If you are involved in a probate dispute and want to know more about your legal options, contact a Columbus probate litigation attorney at the Law Office of Mike Gertner today.