Litigation: FAQ

Q: What are pleadings?

A: Pleadings contain the parties' allegations, defenses and the facts on which those claims are based. Pleadings include the complaint, answer to the complaint, counterclaims/cross claims, answers to any counterclaims/cross claims, third-party complaints and answers to any third-party complaints.

Q: What is discovery?

A: Discovery is the process through which the parties exchange factual information and evidence related to the case. The parties can request documents, request that the other side answer written questions (interrogatories) and question witnesses under oath (depose). This process allows parties to obtain full disclosure of information and facts, secure evidence for use at trial and clarify the issues to be litigated.

Q: What is an interrogatory?

A: Interrogatories are written questions that are formally served upon a party during the discovery process. These questions are used to obtain facts, evidence and information that will support a party's legal claims and help the party develop a litigation strategy.

Q: What is a deposition?

A: At a deposition, attorneys question witnesses, who are under oath, about their knowledge of the relevant facts of the case. A court reporter records the testimony. Just as in court, your attorney may object to particular questions and the rules of evidence are followed. Depositions serve several functions. Like all discovery proceedings, depositions allow the parties to obtain facts and information in preparation for trial. Depositions allow the attorneys a preview of the evidence so that surprise may be avoided at trial. Because depositions occur earlier in the course of litigation, witnesses' recollections of the event may be clearer. In addition, if a witness passes away, or is otherwise unavailable for trial, his or her deposition testimony may be used at trial.

Q: What is summary judgment?

A: In a summary judgment motion a party presents to the court those material facts that are not in dispute, either because the parties agree on those facts or because application of the law to the facts dictates a particular result. The court should grant a motion for summary judgment if there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." If the moving party (the one requesting the decision) is granted summary judgment on one or more of the issues, those issues will not be heard at trial. See the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 56(c) for more information.

Q: Can I sue more than one person or company (or a combination) in one lawsuit?

A: Generally, yes. If you think that your case involves multiple parties, speak with an attorney. Depending on the situation, cases can involve several different people and/or companies and it is usually best to use one lawsuit naming all potentially responsible parties. When filing a lawsuit, all of the claims and parties must be related to the same "occurrence." For example, a claim for a personal injury resulting from an auto accident involving a commercial carrier (such as a semi-truck) could include claims against the truck driver, the trucking company that employed the driver, the maintenance company that worked on the truck and several insurance companies. However, all of the claims and parties must be related to the accident and the resulting injuries.

Q: What should I do if I receive notification that someone is suing me?

A: You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your situation. When lawsuits are filed with the court, there are deadlines and specific procedures that must be followed. An experienced litigation attorney can advise you on the proper steps, explain the process and draft the necessary documents to ensure your rights are protected.

Q: Can I file a lawsuit at anytime?

A: It depends. Most claims have a statute of limitation, which sets forth a specific amount of time in which a lawsuit may be filed. If that time expires, in most cases, the lawsuit may no longer be filed and the claim is lost. The time limits vary depending on the type of case and the jurisdiction (state versus federal law). If you believe that you have a claim against a person, company or other organization, it is critical to consult with an attorney at the earliest possible time.

Q: Can I represent myself in court or must an attorney represent me?

A: Our legal system allows individuals to represent themselves in court. This is called pro se representation. While the court generally shows more lenience to pro se litigants, it is not required to do so. Representing yourself may seem less expensive than hiring an attorney. However, in the end, it could cost you more. Depending on your case, there may be many legal theories involved, multiple parties and complex issues of proof. In addition, the trial process requires strict compliance with many procedural rules regarding discovery, motions and filing deadlines, which can easily overwhelm an individual who is not trained in the law.