THE SIX STAGES OF A BUSINESS LAWSUIT
Many business owners wonder what happens when they become involved in business litigation. Basically, any business lawsuit can be broken down into six (6) distinct stages. The Law Office of Paul R. Clevenger is a full-service business litigation law firm, and we stand ready to assist you with all six stages of a lawsuit. They are as follows:
- Drafting the Lawsuit. The party bringing the lawsuit (called the “Plaintiff”) employs an attorney, who drafts a written complaint. This complaint is usually called the “Plaintiff’s Original Petition.” This Petition sets out the facts surrounding the case, tells what the Plaintiff is complaining about, and states that the Plaintiff was damaged by the party being sued (called the “Defendant”). In a business case, the Plaintiff often claims that the Defendant committed a breach of a contract and/or fraud.
- Filing and Service of the Lawsuit. Once the Plaintiff’s attorney drafts the Petition, he or she files it with the Court. The Court then issues a document called a “citation,” which is addressed to the Defendant. The citation states that the Defendant has been sued, and gives a deadline for the Defendant to file an answer to the suit. Once the citation is issued, the Plaintiff’s attorney employs either a constable or a process serving company to personally hand deliver, or “serve” a copy of the Petition and the citation to the Defendant.
- The Answer. After the Defendant has been served with the citation and the Lawsuit, the Defendant employs an attorney to defend the case. The Defendant’s attorney then files a document with the Court called an “Answer” to the lawsuit. In Texas state court, an Answer is often a one-page document stating that the Defendant categorically denies all of the Plaintiff’s claims.
- The Discovery Period. The discovery period is the critical part of the case, and often determines the ultimate outcome. In Texas state court, this period usually lasts for at least nine (9) months, and may go on much longer. During this time, each side “discovers” information about the other side’s claims and defenses. The Plaintiff tries to get evidence and admissions from the Defendant that prove the Plaintiff’s case, while the Defendant attempts to get evidence and admissions from the Plaintiff that prove Defendant’s defenses.The discovery period usually begins with each side sending the other a list of questions about the case that must be answered under oath (called “Interrogatories”) and a request to produce documents related to the case (called “Requests for Production”). Each side will then want to take the “depositions” of other side’s key witnesses in the case. Such depositions are formal questioning sessions with the witness testifying under oath before a court reporter.
- Mediation. Once discovery is completed (or sometimes during the discovery period) the parties will attempt to “mediate” the case. Simply put, mediation is a process by which the parties attempt to informally settle the case without court involvement. Mediations take place at the office of a mediator, who is usually an experienced attorney specially trained in helping parties to resolve cases. Mediations are often successful; in fact, most business litigation cases are resolved though the mediation process.
- Trial. If the parties cannot resolve their differences at mediation or through informal attempts by their attorneys to settle, the lawsuit will be tried in Court. The case will be decided by a jury unless the parties agree to try the case to a judge alone. In a complex business litigation case, trial preparation can be complicated, time consuming and expensive. For this reason, most cases are settled prior to trial.
 For more information on the Discovery Period, see my blog entitled “What is Discovery,” posted on my website.