How Does a Civil Lawsuit Work?

Civil lawsuits emerge out of disagreements between people, business, and other entities like the government. Generally speaking, civil lawsuits follow four significant steps; pleadings, discovery, trial, and a possible appeal. Keep in mind that not all lawsuits will go to trial.  


To capture each party’s side, every lawsuit begins with pleadings. Litigation will begin once the plaintiff files a complaint with the court. The complaint will then be normally delivered to the defendant. Within the complaint, the document will explain the plaintiff’s reason for taking legal action. The defendant will then have a deadline to answer the complaint and provide their side of the story.


The longest part of a civil lawsuit is the discovery. Discovery begins as soon as the lawsuit is filed and will continue until right before the trial.  During discovery, the parties will gather facts and issues about the case by asking the opposing parties and third parties.

Information is also gathered by interrogatories (formal written questions)m requesting documents, and by conducting depositions. Dispositions are often used during trial to show inconsistencies or credibility of the witness. A claim or defense often requires support from witnesses to either support an argument or explain technical information.


If the case makes it to trial, each party will present evidence in front of a jury and/or judge that supports their claim or defense. Before the trail starts, each party will provide the judge with a “brief” that outlines both the arguments and evidence that will be used in the trial. During the actual trial, each party will present an opening statement and the present their evidence such as calling a witness or introducing a document. After one party calls a witness, the opposing side is allowed to cross-examined the witness.

When both parties have presented their evidence, each party will provide closing statements. The court will then as the jury to deliberate until they reach a decision or verdict.


If a party is not happy with the result, they may appeal. When a party appeals, the case will go to higher court to review. The parties will present their arguments in briefs which will then be sent to the appellate court. The purpose of the appellate court is to determine if the law was correctly applied in the trial court. The court typically only reviews the case for legal error and unless under unusual circumstances will not override the jury’s decision or verdict. If the appellate courts find that was an error, the appellate court can either reverse the verdict or order the court to begin a new trial.

Alternatives to Litigation

Alternatives to litigation help save time and money. However, they don’t always result in a complete resolution of the dispute. Three alternatives to litigation include settlement, mediation, and arbitration.

A settlement is a cost-effective alternative to trial.  A settlement can be discussed at any time by any party.

Mediation is when an unbiased third party member helps the parties agree on settlements. The mediator will meet with both parties and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case. The mediator will point out risks and talk about how the risks may affect their goals.

Lastly, attribution is when the parties selected an unbiased third party to resolve the dispute for the, Both the parties will presents evidence and the arbitrator will decide which party wins. The process is more casual than a formal trial and is usually done privately.