What Should I Expect if I am a Defendant in a Civil Lawsuit?
Important Information for Defendants in Civil Cases
You may have seen a lawsuit coming, or it may have come as a complete surprise. Or you may be in the middle of an employment or business dispute and wondering what it might look like if someone did actually take you to court.
Here are the highlights:
You will be served with a document called a "summons," which should be attached to the Plaintiff's complaint. You have 20 days to file a response, though frequently once you retain an attorney they can get that date extended if necessary. When you respond, you can either move to dismiss the complaint or answer- note that it is generally difficult to dismiss at this early stage, because the court is required to believe the facts set forth in the complaint on a motion to dismiss.
You will have the opportunity when you file your answer to assert any counterclaims you may have against the Plaintiff.
You will be asked for documents and to answer written questions- this is called written discovery. It may feel intrusive, but the rules allow the parties to request a wide range of information. You will have the opportunity to make the same kinds of requests on the plaintiff. You will likely have to give deposition testimony, if the case does not settle before that point. This is usually at least six months or so out from when you file the complaint.
Your attorney may advise that you file a motion for summary judgment at the end of discovery- if you believe the documentary evidence and testimony supports your legal defenses, you can ask the court to dispose of the case before trial. .
Assuming no summary judgment is granted, the court will schedule a trial. it is not unusual these days for the trial date to be two years or more after you file the complaint.
Learn more here about what to expect as a defendant in a civil lawsuit.
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