Anatomy of a Case

This section deals with the actual notice given to defendants when they are being sued and what happens if there is not proper notice.


All courts will require you to provide proof that you have actually given notice of the lawsuit to all of the defendants. The courts strive for actual notice to each party.

Court Dates/Changes/Postponements

Going to trial has often been likened to a roll of the dice - a gamble. No one can predict a trial's outcome, whether it's a member of the jury or the judge. However, while trials are hard to forecast, the trial itself is not a random process.

Usually the first form you file will be called a Petition or a Complaint. It is usually easy to read, but almost always contains some potential pitfalls that, if not completed properly, can cause your case to be rejected by the Clerk of the Court. You must follow all of the directions and you usually must complete all of the blanks. You cannot rely on the court to provide any information.

Pretrial Conferences: Typically, there are several hearings in the weeks before the trial where the judge and attorneys will work to narrow issues for trial, discuss witnesses and exhibits, and draft a "Pretrial Order" that serves as both a set of rules and an outline for the trial.

Many states have a procedure sometimes known as a Request for Admission, where if formally asked about some fact(s), a party can admit the truth of it. The purpose is to save time, although to an outsider, it may look like a complete waste of time.

Whenever a party wishes to request something from the judge during the case, such as a clarification or limitation, they can file a motion in accordance with the rules specified in their state’s civil procedure statutes. This is the way of getting the judge to take notice of the problem, and asking for a judicial ruling.

Interrogatories are some of the most basic tools used to find out information from another party. State and federal law usually set the number of interrogatories that can be asked and for which answers are required.

Hearings are meetings with the judge, usually in open court and most often "on the record," which means a recording is made to avoid disputes. Many hearings are made under oath. Usually hearings occur on motion made by one party or another, but sometimes the judge can summon both parties to a hearing in an effort to resolve some problem regarding the case.

One of the least understood elements of a case, especially to a Plaintiff, are motions that appear to never let the Plaintiff "tell his case to a jury" and result in the case being dismissed without a trial. Understanding these can help to decide whether to become involved in a lawsuit in the first place.


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