Stages of a Civil Case

     Most civil lawsuits can be divided into the stages listed below:

  • Pre-filing.  During the pre-filing stage, the dispute arises and the parties make demands, try to negotiate a resolution, and prepare for the possibility of a court action.
  • Initial pleading.  During this stage, one party files papers (called a "complaint") to start the court action, and the other party files some type of response (an "answer" or maybe a "motion").
  • Discovery.  During the discovery stage, both sides exchange information and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the other side's case.
  • Post discovery/pre-trial.  In this stage, the parties start preparing for trial; they get their evidence and witnesses in order, they might engage in some type of settlement conference, and they may file motions with the court to resolve the case or limit the issues for trial.
  • Trial.  During this stage, the case is actually heard by the judge or a jury (which could last for a couple of hours or a couple of months, depending on the complexity of the case); witnesses are examined, evidence is presented, and the case is eventually decided and a judgment entered.
  • Post-trial.  During the post-trial stage, one or both of the parties might appeal the judgment that was entered at trial, or the winning party might try to collect the judgment that was entered.


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