Overview of the Litigation Process
Once you hire a lawyer, your case will be filed in the appropriate court. The statement of claims and damages sought is presented in a complaint filed by the injured person, or plaintiff. Generally, the opposing party, the defendant, then files an answer which responds to the allegations argued. The case then begins the pre-trail phase devoted to gathering as much information as to the facts and circumstances of the injury. A party may serve the opposing party interrogatories, which are written questions by the other party.
A party may also take depositions, or ask oral questions, of a party or witness. The responses to interrogatories and to deposition questions are given under oath and have the same weight as testimony in a courtroom. More about depositions.
During the discovery phase, pretrial motions may be filed for consideration by the judge. These motions may request the court to dismiss the entire lawsuit, dismiss a claim or party, or limit the evidence to be presented.
Completing the discovery process is governed by time limits, and once the deadline for discovery has passed, then typically the court will schedule a pretrial conference with the parties to discuss a wide variety of trial topics. At this time the judge will set a trial date.
With a pending trial date, the defense may be interested in attempting to settle the case using a mediator. There are many professional groups, often staffed by retired judges, who offer mediation services. By this point, both sides know the strength and weaknesses of their respective positions making settlement more likely. If the case does not settle, nothing shared during the mediation conference is admissible at trial.
Civil actions in state court may be tried to either a judge (often called a bench trial) or a jury. Generally, the plaintiff will make a jury demand or a request for a jury trial. Thus, the trial begins with the jury selection. The judge and the parties then can ask the prospective jurors questions. This process is called voir dire.
Each party then gives an opening statement, which is an overview of the evidence expected to be presented. Next, the plaintiff presents evidence by calling witnesses and asking questions. Each party must abide by the Colorado Rules of Evidence. These rules govern what evidence is admissible and how it may be presented. If a party believes the other party is not following the rules, that party may raise an objection. The judge will then either sustain the objection, agreeing that the evidence rules prohibit the evidence, or overrule the objection.
The plaintiff must present evidence first. The defendant can cross-examine any witness called by the plaintiff. After the plaintiff is done presenting evidence, the defendant may present evidence. The plaintiff has the right to cross-examine any defense witnesses, and after completing the defendant’s case, the plaintiff may present further evidence to rebut the evidence presented by the defendant.
Once the parties have presented their evidence, they each can make closing arguments to the jury. Closing arguments must be based upon the evidence produced in trial.
After closing arguments, the court will give jury instructions, which describe the law and procedure that the jury must use in deciding. After the closing arguments, the jury will pick a foreperson and discuss the evidence in private. To reach a decision, all jurors must agree. If the jury cannot agree, the court may declare a hung-jury and the case may be tried again to another jury later.
Following the verdict, parties may file post-trial motions, the most common are a motion for new trial or a motion for judgment not withstanding the verdict. The parties may also file a notice of appeal to have the case reviewed by an appellate court.