Filing a Civil Lawsuit — Part Two

courthouse gavel cartoon

What to Expect as You Move Toward Trial

In Part One of this series, we discussed how to initiate a civil action and looked at the discovery process. So you’ve gathered all the evidence, deposed all necessary witnesses, and reviewed all documents related to the dispute. It’s time to go to trial, right? Not yet.

The Pre-Trial Motion Stage of a Civil Lawsuit

As we discussed in Part One, most court dockets are full. Furthermore, trials can be expensive and time- consuming. Accordingly, the courts have an incentive to either dispose of a dispute entirely before trial or to minimize the issues that need to be resolved. This is typically done through the use of pre-trial motions.

A motion is a written request to the court to take some type of action. There are generally two types of pre-trial motions—dispositive motions and evidentiary motions. A dispositive motion seeks to resolve all or part of a dispute, whereas an evidentiary motion seeks to limit or expand what types of proof a jury may be exposed to.

  • Evidentiary motions — As we indicated in Part One of this series, the rules of evidence do not apply in the same way at a deposition as they do at trial (because the jury is not there to hear the testimony). Accordingly, witnesses may make disclosures at depositions that will not be admissible at trial (they may be opinions, they may be hearsay, or they may not be relevant). If the jury hears that testimony, it may be unfairly prejudiced, which may lead to a mistrial. For that reason, the court will want to determine before trial what statements may or may not be admissible.
  • Dispositive motions — Either party may file dispositive motions and may seek a ruling on some claims or the entire lawsuit. Typically, the action comes in the form of a “summary judgment” motion, where the plaintiff (party seeking relief) alleges that no viable defense has been established, or the defendant contends that the plaintiff has failed to produce evidence to support one or all of the claims in the lawsuit.
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