When a dispute arises, it may be necessary to take your claim to court to get compensation or a fair resolution. Litigation is the process of taking a case through the court system, and if necessary, through trial and appeals. A civil court claim in California can take years to come to trial but most cases end up settled before they get to trial. An aggressive litigator can save you time and money through preparation and experience to get a settlement in your favor.
Litigation is used to settle disputes and conflicts through the civil court system. Litigation can involve just about any area of dispute between two or more parties, including:
- Contract Disputes
- Business Litigation
- Landlord/Tenant Litigation
- Real Estate Litigation
- Construction Litigation
- Employment Litigation
- Insurance Defense
- Mechanic's Liens
- Property Disputes
- Water and Mineral Rights Disputes
Court Litigation Process in California
The litigation process generally begins through filing a complaint in the proper California court. However, a case can be settled even before filing a complaint. An initial demand letter or phone call from your lawyer may be enough to get the other party to change their mind and avoid the potential of formal litigation.
The complaint sets out the cause of action or basis for the lawsuit. It also provides for the type of relief requested, generally money damages or a specific action to be taken. The complaint provides a broad outline for the case and generally can be amended to provide for additional facts, causes of action, and relief requested.
After filing the complaint, it is served upon the named defendants. The defendants then respond through filing an answer. After the initial filings, the discovery process begins. Discovery generally involves exchanging documents, gathering information, and asking and answering questions. Discovery in a California civil court case can include:
- Document Requests
- Inspection of Records
- Property Inspection
- Medical Examinations
When there are disputes involving discovery, such as one party is not turning over all the documents, the other party generally files a motion in court to compel the production of the requested documents. After all discovery is complete, pretrial motion practice involves filing motions to request certain action by the court. This can include motions to suppress evidence, change the court venue, or motion for reconsideration.
After filing a motion, the other party has the chance to respond, and then the filing party has the chance to reply to the opposition. The judge may make a ruling on the papers or provide an oral argument to allow the parties to argue their case and answer the judge's questions before making a ruling.
After pretrial motions, the court may set a trial date. Before trial, the judge may try and get the case settled through settlement conferences or referring the case to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation or arbitration. In most civil claims, the cases are settled prior to trial because trials can be time-consuming and expensive. However, when settlement is not possible or one side is refusing to compromise, the case will go to trial.
In a jury trial, the parties go through the process of jury selection to try and eliminate prejudicial jurors and get jurors who may be sympathetic to one's case. In a bench trial, the judge acts as the fact-finder and there is no jury. In some cases, a bench trial may be preferred over using jurors gathered from the local population.
During trial, each side presents their case, including arguing the law, the facts, presenting witness testimony, expert testimony, and submitting evidence to the jury. After each side presents their case and the other side has a chance to respond, the jury or judge will make a ruling finding in favor of or against the parties.
After a decision is made, each party generally still has a chance to appeal. There is a limited time to file an appeal and there are limited reasons to request an appeal.
Lawsuit Time Limits in California
One of the most important aspects of filing the complaint is to make sure it is filed in time. There is a limited amount of time in most civil claims. The statute of limitations to file a claim depends on the type of case, parties involved, and other factors. Talk to your litigation attorney as soon as possible to make sure your case is filed in time or your claim may be denied. California statute of limitations timelines includes the following.
- Personal Injury - two years from the date of injury.
- Property Damage - three years from the date of property damage.
- Patent Defects (including construction defects) - four years from the date of construction completion.
- Latent Defects (unknown or not apparent problems in real estate) - ten years from the date of construction completion.
- Libel or Slander - one year from the date of injury.
- Contract (Written) Disputes - four years from the date of the breach.
- Oral Contract Dispute - two years from the date of the breach.
Litigation Lawyers in Southern San Joaquin Valley, Including Bakersfield and the Remainder of Kern County
When it comes to courtroom litigation, experience matters. At Zimmer & Melton LLP, we represent our clients from the beginning of a dispute, through trial and appeals, to enforcing judgments to get our clients the money they deserve. We represent individuals, families, and businesses in litigation in the Southern an Joaquin Valley, including Bakersfield and the remainder of Kern County. Contact us with an questions on litigation.