Civil Actions make up a very broad category of the law. It's easy to define them as "not a criminal action" – those are brought by the state against an individual accused of violating a statute or other law. Practically every other lawsuit is a civil action and can be as simple as a property owner to as complex as the family of a murdered individual bringing a wrongful death action against the alleged murderer (and everything in between). At the Tull Law Firm, PLLC, we handle a wide variety of civil actions including business litigation, probate litigation and others.
The Civil Lawsuit Process
Civil actions usually begin by one party filing a lawsuit against another. The parties can be individuals, sole proprietorships, corporations or even a governmental entity. In a lawsuit, the plaintiff files papers with the court alleging the defendant as having committed an act to which the plaintiff seeks a remedy, which can be monetary (a cash payment), equitable (or injunctive relief, an order from the court to perform or not perform a specific act or acts) or both monetary and equitable relief.
Once the lawsuit (or case) has been filed at the court, the plaintiff then must serve notice—a summons and complaint—on the defendant. The defendant gets a specific amount of time to answer the charges or otherwise move (file a motion) to dismiss for issues such as improper jurisdiction (the court lacks authority to hear the case) or improper venue (the court is located in the wrong place). If defendant answers the complaint and nothing is improper, the parties then start the discovery process—the exchange of information between the parties to develop evidence—which include witness depositions (pre-trial oral testimony), requests for admissions, production of documents and more.
Once discovery is complete, the parties are usually ready to go to trial, although many cases settle at this point. Gathering all the information in discovery often shows which party will be the winner and many lawsuits never proceed past this, with the parties agreeing to a settlement. If that doesn’t happen, the court will set a trial date and, depending on the type of lawsuit and the demands by the plaintiff or defendant, either a judge (in a bench trial) or a jury (in a jury trial) will decide the case.
This entire process often takes a year or more, including various motions (requests to the court) and other actions taken by the lawyers to sort out issues and demands before the trial occurs. This is a very complex process and having the right lawyer can make or break a lawsuit.
Whether you are the plaintiff who feels they have been wronged or the defendant who has been served with a complaint, you will need a lawyer to take you through the process. There is a very important point to be made when it comes to retaining an attorney.
Information For Plaintiffs
There is a deadline for you to bring your action if you are the plaintiff (called the statute of limitations) and a deadline to respond if you are the defendant. If you are the plaintiff it is unwise to wait to contact an attorney until you have "all the facts", as Tennessee has a very short statute of limitations on your ability to bring a case, often as short as one year.If you feel you MAY have been wronged by the actions of another—contact an attorney immediately. At the Tull Law Firm, PLLC the first consultation is free so you have nothing to lose by bringing your case to us early. We will be able to tell you our opinion on if you have a case and if so, tell you what you need to do to protect your case going forward. Waiting too long can end your case before you can even bring it.
Information For Defendants
If you are the defendant who has been served with a complaint DO NOT wait around and see if it will go away. It won’t. As a defendant, you only have a limited time to respond to the complaint. Not responding can have very serious consequences. Just as with the plaintiff, the first consultation with the Tull Law Firm, PLLC is free so call the day you are served or shortly thereafter. We want to help you but we cannot unless you contact us so we can get your side of the story and answer the complaint in a timely manner. The worst thing you can do is delay talking to an attorney.