Overview of a Lawsuit

The term lawsuit has come to have a negative connotation, however, there are many reasons to file a lawsuit that are non-confrontational.  Lawsuits can be filed to get a clear title to sell a house, or to open a probate to distribute the estate of a deceased loved one.  Sometimes however, disputes do arise, and whether a lawsuit is being commenced or defended against, many questions undoubtedly arise.  While this article is by no means all inclusive, it is meant as a basic guideline of what to expect in litigation in the Superior Court of Arizona.

A lawsuit is commenced by filing a complaint.  Most commonly, lawsuits are commenced in the Superior Court in the County where the Plaintiff resides.  There are many exceptions to this rule, however they go beyond the scope of this article.  Once a lawsuit has been filed, it must be “served” on the Defendant, or Defendants, if there are more than one.  A lawsuit must be served according to Rules 4.1 and 4.2 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure.  The most common method of service is to hire a process server who is licensed to serve the lawsuit on the Defendants.

Once the lawsuit is served, a general timeline will be set.  Although there are many different situations which can cause a timeline to expand or contract, this scenario will be for a simple lawsuit.  To begin with, the Defendant will generally have 20 days to respond or “Answer” the lawsuit.  If the Defendant does not answer, the Plaintiff can file for Default pursuant to Rule 55 Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure.  If the Defendant does Answer, the Discovery Process begins.  Simply put, Discovery is the process by which the parties gather and exchange information relevant to the case.  There is an ongoing duty to disclose new information, but at a minimum, an initial report must be exchanged no later than 40 days after the Defendant “Answers” the lawsuit.

Typically, if the discovery period has passed, the Court will set an initial conference on the case to ascertain where the parties are at in the process.  Depending on the type of case, the Court may set the matter for a settlement conference or for arbitration.  Usually these matters are scheduled several months from the time of the initial conference with the court.  At the settlement conference, the parties are given an opportunity to present their case to a person who is not the same judge that will hear their case at trial.  That person will assist the parties in trying to find a solution.  If the parties successfully reach a settlement agreement, they can submit it to the court.  If not, the parties will usually inform the judge they failed to reach a settlement and ask that the case that be set be for trial.

The scheduling of a trial depends on many factors including the length of the trial, the availability of the parties and the availability of the Court, to name just a few.  On average, it may take 1-2 months to schedule a 1 day trial. The length of trial is determined on the number of issues before the court and the complexity of each issue. The more complex, the more time is needed. Once the trial is concluded, the Judge will sometimes make a ruling that same day, usually though, the Judge will issue a ruling several days, or weeks, after trial has concluded.

Every case is unique and every case takes its own path to resolution. Whether it goes all the way to trial depends on many factors.  Most cases settle, at least some of the issues, and this is due to the time and expense involved in any matter before the court. But even after trial there are factors that could extend the case. As evidenced by the above, even a simple trial can take many months, and this is something litigants should consider when deciding to file a lawsuit.  Platt & Westby has offices in Phoenix, Arrowhead, Litchfield Park, Scottsdale and Mesa Arizona.  If you are interested in discussing a new or existing lawsuit, contact our office by calling 602-277-4441 or visit www.plattwestby.com to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.