Frequently Asked Questions

1. How can I keep away from lawsuits?

There is no way you can stop someone from suing you. Everyone has a right to file a lawsuit, as long as they submit the proper paperwork to the Court and pay the filing fee.

In business matters, the best way to avoid lawsuits is to have a professionally drawn contract that leaves little or no room for ambiguities. The less ambiguous the contract, the less there is to fight about. Needless to say, in this day and age nobody should rely on verbal contracts if they can help it.


2. What if the person is saying things in a lawsuit that are false?

A person can say anything they want to in a lawsuit, because it falls under the “litigation privilege.”

However, it is quite a different matter when they have to prove it. The person who starts the litigation by filing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) will have to show the other side (the defendant) that there is merit to the case before a settlement is reached. A case may even reach a full trial. Then, each side must put on its evidence.

If the defendant wins, and it is shown that the plaintiff’s case was without merit, the defendant may be able to sue the original plaintiff for malicious prosecution.


3. If I am sued, when can I settle the case?

A case can settle at any time. Some people pay a settlement as soon as they learn they have been sued, simply to avoid having to go through the litigation process.

A case may settle literally minutes before trial (“on the Courthouse steps”), or even in the middle of a trial.


4. Do I have to go through a trial before a judge and/or jury?

Not necessarily. Sometimes, a written contract between people will state that there must first be arbitration or mediation. Some contracts even try to limit the parties solely to arbitration or mediation (known as “alternate dispute resolution”).

However, even if there is no such language, the parties may elect to have the case decided by arbitration or mediation. The procedure does not have to be binding. The parties can still have a trial in Court if one side disagrees with the (non-binding) arbitration decision.


5. Do I have to say how much I am suing for when I file my complaint?

Usually, that is not necessary. The more important decision is where to file the complaint. Since the Court system is now unified, there is one Superior Court. There are no longer Municipal Courts. The choice is now between Limited Superior Court and Unlimited Superior Court. The Limited Court handles any cases up to $25,000.00. Any claim above $25,000.00 is filed in the Unlimited Superior Court.

Remember Small Claims Court! This has now assumed more importance, because Individuals can file any claim up to $10,000.00 in the Small Claims Court.


6. How long does it take to get to trial?

It was not so long go that some cases would drag on for five years before getting to trial. The system was not as bad as that portrayed in Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House,” but it was frustrating for people involved in lawsuits.

However, a few years ago a law was passed that said every case had to either settle or go to trial within a year and a half. The aim was to clear a large backlog of Court cases. This aim was successfully achieved. Today, most cases are either settled or tried within twelve to fourteen months.


7. What happens just before and during trial?

The parties are informed of the trial date well in advance, to give them time to complete discovery, try to settle the case, and prepare for trial. If a case must go to trial, it will be before a judge alone, or before a judge and jury.

A trial is an expensive and time-consuming process, requiring an enormous amount of advance preparation. Documents prepared include: exhibit lists, witness lists, trial briefs, motions in limine (rulings on evidence), verdict forms, and jury instructions (in a jury trial). In addition, witnesses must be informed and subpoenas issued.

Fees paid to the Court include jury fees and Court reporter fees. Parties must be prepared to take time off work to be in trial.

The decision at the conclusion of the trial is clear-cut. Only one side will win. Naturally, there are no guarantees. At the end of trial the successful party will submit a Memorandum of Costs, asking the other side for reimbursement of all fees paid to the Court; service fees, deposition costs, and xeroxing and postage costs.

If the case involved a written contract saying the unsuccessful side will pay all attorney’s fees, the successful party will submit that request to the Court.


8. How doe the appeals process work?

It is most important to file the Notice of Appeal within the required time limit. If it is not filed on time, the appeal will not be considered. State and Federal Court Rules provide guidelines.

Once the Notice of Appeal is accepted and filed, the Court of Appeal will set a schedule for filing briefs. There may be oral argument at Court, which will be presented by the attorneys.