The length of litigation can vary significantly depending on several factors: complexity, court system, competency of counsel involved; and parties willingness to negotiate/settle. Notwithstanding the factors, litigation all starts out the same.
The Beginning: Filing a Complaint
The first step to a lawsuit is the Plaintiff (person bringing the action) files a Complaint and serves the other parties. Once a Defendant is served, Ohio permits twenty-eight (28) days to file an Answer or otherwise defend the lawsuit. An Answer where the party admits, denies, or denies for lack of information each and every allegation in the Complaint. (Small Claims procedure is a little different as it skips the remaining steps and goes straight to a trial).
Moving into Discovery
After the Answer is filed the lawsuit moves into a discovery or pre-trial phase. Discovery, the pre-trial phase, involves the exchange of information, gathering evidence, and conducting depositions. To learn more about discovery click here.
Motions and Judgments
Post discovery, the parties will usually file a Motion for Summary Judgment (“MSJ”). The MSJ asks the court for either partial or full judgment in the filing party’s favor. In a MSJ the party filing it is telling the Court that there are no issues of fact and the law is very clear on the issue and it must be found in the filing party’s favor. There is a very high threshold that must be met for the Judge to rule in favor of the filing party. If there is any question about a material fact it is unlikely that the MSJ will be granted.
Trial: The Final Stage
Assuming the MSJ is denied, then and only then may the case proceed to trial. For a lot of parties this is the first time they will be in the Courthouse and with the Judge. The trial is when both parties finally present their arguments and evidence before a judge or jury. The trial process can be time-consuming, involving witness testimonies, cross-examinations, and legal arguments. If the case is a jury trial the verdict will be rendered after deliberation; if the case is a bench trial (meaning the Judge decides) it may take months to receive a written decision. After the trial the verdict/decision is rendered the case has ended. If a party is dissatisfied with the decision, they may appeal it.
The Variable Nature of Litigation
Each of these stages can vary in length as parties can request extensions, court’s caseloads can get backed up, and there can be a number of various motions interspersed throughout. The length of discovery and trial will vary depending on the number of parties involved and how complicated the issue in dispute is – the more parties and more complications the longer the process.
In most cases the parties are engaging in settlement discussions throughout the process. If the parties are close to reaching a resolution they may mutually agree to hold off or push out any deadlines to allow time to reach an agreement. Settlement may happen informally, the parties exchanging offers, or more formally with the appointment of a mediator. Often reaching a settlement can be the most cost effective method of resolving the dispute.