If you are potentially involved in a lawsuit, you may want to acquaint yourself with the litigation process. Below is an overview of what happens during each stage. Most cases are resolved before reaching trial.
- Prefiling review. Immediately after we are retained by you, our office finds out as much as possible about the nature of your case. We will examine key documents, talk to witnesses, and research the applicable law.
- Filing, serving and responding to the lawsuit. The lawsuit formally begins when the plaintiff files a complaint in court. In New York Supreme Court, all fillings are commenced electronically through NYSCEF.. The plaintiff then serves the lawsuit on the defendant. The defendant usually responds with either an answer or may make a motion to dismiss the case if it is without merit.
- Discovery. The parties may send each other questions to be answered in writing in the form of interrogatories, demands for discovery and inspection, notices to admit, and subpoenas.
- Discovery Conferences. In New York Supreme Court, the initial conference with the court is a preliminary conference. Since the advent of COVID, nearly all conferences are now being conducted remotely via Microsoft Teams. At the preliminary conference, the parties will enter into a discovery schedule and the court will resolve any discovery disputes. Thereafter, the court works to keep the case on track by following up with compliance and status conferences.
- Depositions. Examinations Before Trial (EBT) are usually conducted after all paper discovery is complete. Both sides will have the opportunity to question a party to the action.
- Summary judgment. After all discovery is complete and the note of issue is filed, one or both parties may file a motion for summary judgment under CPLR Section 3211. Here, the parties petition the court to decide the case. The prevailing party must prove that there are no issues of fact and they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The judge may grant summary judgment to one side if the judge believes there is no dispute about what the evidence shows or how the law should be applied to the evidence. The losing party can appeal.
- Pretrial conference and motions. As the patties get ready for trial, the attorneys meet with the judge or his/her law secretary for a pretrial conference. The purpose is to plan the trial and get preliminary rulings on what evidence will be admitted, what witnesses will testify, what exhibits will be introduced, and what jury instructions will be given. The court will also try to settle the case.
- Trial. The trial usually begins with jury selection, unless the plaintiff has elected to allow the judge to decide the case. Each side will present an opening statement and its witnesses and evidence, with the plaintiff going first. Each side gets to cross-examine the other side's witnesses. The trial concludes with closing statements from both sides. Then the judge instructs the jury and they adjourn to deliberate and reach a verdict.
- Post-trial motions. After a verdict has been reached, one or both parties may ask the court to order a new trial because of alleged mistakes that occurred during the first trial or because the evidence was subsequently discovered that could change the outcome.
- Appeal. If the court declines to order a new trial, the losing side may appeal to a higher court that will review the trial transcript and decide whether errors were made that mean a new trial should be held or the trial court's judgment reversed.
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