If you are in a situation where you need to file a lawsuit, it is best to seek legal help to figure out where to start and learn how the process works. Ruesch & Reeve has a team of skilled civil litigation attorneys in southern Utah to help when filing a lawsuit. Even the basic decision of where to sue isn’t as simple as it seems, but our attorneys will be there to guide you.
What is litigation?
At its core, litigation is a way for people to settle their disputes within the court. The legal process consists of parties (who are referred to as litigants) arguing their cases against each other in the court system. The person who starts the litigation process is normally called a plaintiff or petitioner, and the person who replies to the plaintiff’s claims will normally be called a defendant or respondent.
Types of litigation cases
Now that you know the basic definitions of litigation, it’s important to note the different types of litigation cases.
- Criminal cases
For criminal litigation cases, the government will prosecute an individual for violating a law or allegedly committing a crime. The government will be represented by a lawyer called a prosecutor. Who the prosecutor is will depend on the jurisdiction and type of crime (city, county, state or federal).
- Civil cases
Civil litigation typically involves two persons or entities where one party files a dispute against another, suing for compensation for damages. A judge or jury will listen to the case and apply the law to the facts presented in court by both parties to make the ruling.
If you find yourself involved in a civil case, civil litigation attorneys in southern Utah can guide you through the process.
Within civil litigation are different types of civil cases.
- Personal injury claims
Personal injury claims are one the most common civil litigation cases. The plaintiff asks for compensation for damage caused as a result of an action by the defendant. The claim may be based on negligence, intentional wrongdoing, or liability. Claims filed can include auto and motorcycle accidents, medical malpractice, animal attacks, etc. As an example, two people get into a heated argument and one of them shoves the other, causing an injury. The injured person then goes to the doctor who determines that because of the assault, the injured person will require surgery. The injured party can then file a claim against their attacker to pay for their medical bills as well as reimbursement for lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.
- Contract disputes
If an individual or entity fails to fulfill their obligations outlined in a contract, the injured party can file a case in a civil court based on breach of contract claims. The plaintiff asks for compensation for the non-fulfillment of the contract. Situations in which people may be in breach of their contract are in business agreements and non-delivery of paid purchases. An example would be if someone leaves their leased property before their contract is up but claim they do not need to continue paying their rent because they no longer live on the premises.
- Class action suits
Class action lawsuits are complex forms of litigation designed to combine groups of people with similar injuries under a few representatives. Specific requirements must be met to qualify for a class action lawsuit and will vary depending on the state and even federal courts. As an example, a group of people who suffered injuries due to a manufacturing defect may combine all their claims under a class action lawsuit.
- Divorce/family law disputes
Any case involving divorce, legal separation, or custody disputes will fall under civil litigation. The court will rule on dissolving the union, the division of marital assets, spousal support, and child custody/support. A common example would be a married couple filing for divorce and need to decide what assets to split up and what the custody agreement would be for any minor children.
- Property disputes
Property cases involve individuals with disagreements about property ownership and boundaries. The court may offer compensation along with restriction orders against the trespasser. An example could be neighbors having a dispute over the property line, resulting in one neighbor building on their neighbor’s property claiming it is their right because they think it’s on their property.
- Business Litigation
Business litigation is common in southern Utah, resulting from business disputes such as breach of contract, business defamation, and tortious interference with contracts or economic opportunities. Ruesch & Reeve’s civil litigation attorneys in southern Utah are experts in this field and can assess the likelihood of successfully litigating a business dispute based on business law, Uniform Commercial Code, company law, and state and federal statutes.
Ruesch & Reeve’s civil litigation attorneys in southern Utah provide a wide range of litigation services for the southern Utah area including:
- Breach of contract litigation
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Labor & employment law
- Real estate litigation
- Fraud litigation
Starting a litigation case:
When you are involved in a litigation case, your attorney will explain the documents to you as it pertains to your case, but here are the basics of the beginning court papers:
The first document filed in a lawsuit will be called a complaint or petition that will outline the plaintiff’s case against the defendant. The complaint identifies the parties who are involved, lays out the legal basis for the court’s jurisdiction over the controversy, states the plaintiff’s legal claims, and relates the facts of the case to provide the basis of the claims. The plaintiff will then state their requests and demands to the court on what they wish for the court to order against the defendant, such as pay for damages or take certain actions against the defendant.
- Summons and service of process
A summons is a legal document that notifies the defendant that they have been sued. A summons will state the location of the court where the case was filed and informs the defendant the deadline they have to file a document called an answer or reply. The summons will also list the consequences the defendant will face if they fail to respond by the deadline that can include:
- Summary judgment – all the claims presented by the plaintiff against the defendant are deemed true
- Judgment by default – the defendant will be required to accept and follow all of the requests and demands the plaintiff listed in the complaint
The summons must be delivered or “served” to the defendant along with a copy of the complaint (formally called a “service of process”). A third party called a process server will locate the defendant, confirms their identity, and delivers the documents into the defendant’s custody. Once a defendant has been served, the deadline they must file their answer with court will begin. Service of process is done in person by default, but under certain circumstances (difficulty in locating the defendant, the defendant lives out of state, etc.) the court may allow service to be completed through alternative means such as a newspaper publication or certified mail. In some rare instances, courts have begun to allow service through email or social media posts. Alternative service methods must be approved by a judge before they are to be used to serve the defendant.
The answer is the document where the defendant responds to the complaint. The answer allows the defendant to either reply or challenge every paragraph in the complaint. The defendant will also list out all the reasons and defenses the defendant has to show they should not be held liable for the plaintiff’s damages.
If the defendant feels that it was they who was injured by the plaintiff, they can file alongside their answer a counterclaim. A counterclaim’s contents will typically follow the same rules and guidelines as a complaint (identify the parties, jurisdiction, legal claims, facts, and demands to the court). Once the counterclaim is filed in court, the plaintiff will also have a set deadline to file a reply to the counterclaim.
- Reply to the counterclaim
If the defendant files an answer with a counterclaim, the plaintiff may respond by filing a reply. A reply to a counterclaim will follow a similar structure to an answer, where the plaintiff will reply or challenge the counterclaim’s contents, along with a list of their reasons and defenses against the counterclaim.
Complaints and answers, counterclaims and their replies, are the most common documents to bring parties into a litigation case. Other types of party-related documents exist, such as crossclaims, third-party claims, and interventions. Each of these documents are designed to bring different types of people into a case. Skilled civil litigation attorneys can help you determine which type will work best for your situation.
Now that you understand the basics of a litigation case, if you are a southern Utah resident who has found themself in a litigation case, civil litigation attorneys in southern Utah are here to help you at Ruesch & Reeve.