No matter how you’ve found yourself in court, the legal system as a whole can be quite intimidating. Unfortunately, that feeling can be exacerbated when you have no clue what may be coming next.
If you are involved in a lawsuit and need help in understanding the ins and outs of the U.S. court system, here’s a guide that details what you can expect when you use litigation to help solve your disputes.
A Brief Background of U.S. Civil Procedure
In the U.S., the history of lawsuits and civil procedures dates all the way back to the formation of this country. Back then, legal actions were based on common law practices and varied greatly depending on the state in which you lived.
Mandates and laws enacted in the 18th Century (including the Process Act of 1792) did very little to change this, as they still required that federal courts in any given state operate according to the laws of that state.
Unfortunately, this lack of uniformity created a lot of confusion between the federal courts and the state, and it made legal procedures cumbersome for lawyers and litigants alike.
In the 1840s, David Dudley Field II started a movement promoting the idea that the U.S. needed a code for civil procedure that would create a logical and coherent system for lawsuits and legal proceedings.
Though it may have taken a century and several legal committees (including the American Bar Association), the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was adopted on December 20th, 1937.
While the FRCP does have problems of its own, it has been the most significant step to date that the U.S. has taken towards creating a more coherent system for federal litigation.
A Bit about Lawsuit Statistics
Although there continues to be problems with the legal system in both the federal and state courts, lawsuits are still a viable way to bring justice to many situations. The following statistics found on the U.S. Courts website highlight this fact:
In 2013, there were 284,604 civil case filings in the U.S. District Courts across all 50 states, which were up 2.2 percent from the previous year.
As of September 2013, there were 5,027 total completed civil trials in the U.S. District Courts within the previous 12-month time period.
As of September 2013, there were 254,507 pending civil lawsuit cases in the previous 12 months not involving the United States as a plaintiff or defendant. These lawsuits have yet to go to trial due to delays in the case or the system.
Types of Lawsuits You Can File
When it comes to civil litigation, there are numerous situations in which you may be able to file a lawsuit against an individual, a business, or even the United States.
Some of these types of lawsuit include:
Breach of Contract: Two parties signed a contract, but one or both parties fail to comply with the terms.
Torts: These deal with the intentional or unintentional harm against another person (including an accident or an act of libel or negligence) that causes physical or mental damage.
Succession Disputes: These suits help to solve problems with wills and trusts between executors and beneficiaries.
Commercial Law Disputes: These suits can deal with numerous aspects of business, from unfair hiring processes (which may involve federal law) to issues arising from manufacturing and sales of a product.
An Overview of the Lawsuit Filing Process
Here’s a brief rundown of what to expect from the lawsuit filing process:
If you’ve tried to resolve the conflict with your defendant, you can begin the lawsuit process by filing a complaint with the courts detailing how you were wronged by the defendant and the compensation you are requesting.
The defendant will then be served a legal notice and be summoned to appear in court.
If a settlement cannot be reached, either you or your attorney will commence discovery, which involves the parties answering questions as well as fulfilling any requests for evidence.
If your case goes to trial, you or your attorney will need to produce evidence to prove your case. Depending on the type of case, either a jury or a judge will decide whether you are right and how much compensation you deserve.
After the decision has been made, the loser or the lawsuit is allowed to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals.
Where to Get Funding For Lawsuits
Those who find themselves involved in a lawsuit without the financial means to see it through to completion may qualify for lawsuit funding through a private company. A legal financing company will review your case and, if they believe that your case has merit, you may be able to get a cash advance.
In general, you can use the cash to pay attorney and court fees, or you may also use it to help with personal matters related to the case (including avoiding foreclosure or eviction, credit repair, or medical bills).
Depending on the type of lawsuit you are facing and the reasons for your involvement, you may also want to check with local non profit agencies or a pro bono attorney to see if they may be able to provide you with funding help.
Whether or not you have an attorney on your side, filing a lawsuit can be scary. However, knowing how lawsuits work can give you the confidence to seek justice when you need it most.