No one ever wants to hear the company they have worked so hard to build is being served with a lawsuit. Receiving notice that your business is being sued is always a stressful experience, but the more you understand about what to expect from the litigation proceedings to come, the more calm and confident you will feel as you approach the process. In this overview, our commercial litigation attorneys explain the general timeline of a lawsuit to give you a better understanding of what happens when your business is sued in New Jersey. To schedule a confidential legal consultation, call The Jayson Law Group LLC at (908) 258-0621 today.
Step 1: Receiving the Summons and Complaint
When people visualize the legal system, they are oftentimes imagining criminal cases. Civil cases, however, follow a very different path.
In New Jersey, pursuant to R. 4:4 a civil action begins when you are served the summons and complaint. While served together, these are actually two separate documents. The summons is a written notice to appear in court, while the complaint is a statement detailing the actual allegations. In other words, the complaint represents the plaintiff’s first pleading.
Pursuant to R. 4:4-3(a), the summons and complaint may be served to you in person or via mail by:
- The County Sheriff.
- The plaintiff’s attorney.
- Any person appointed by the court.
- Any person “not having a direct interest in the litigation.”
Step 2: Answering the Summons and Complaint
After you receive the summons and complaint, the next step is to respond by filing your answer. If you do not answer within 35 days of receiving the summons, a default judgment will be entered against you. A default judgment essentially means that because you failed to acknowledge and respond to the lawsuit, the court automatically entered a judgment in favor of the non-defaulting party (i.e. the plaintiff). If a default judgment is entered against you, your property, financial assets, and wages can be seized by the County Sheriff. Needless to say, this is not a situation you wish to find yourself in — but you can avoid it by filing an answer within the allotted time period.
The answer is a written document which explains whether you agree or disagree with the plaintiff’s complaint, and the reasoning which supports your position. This reasoning is called your affirmative defense.
Your answer may also contain a:
- Counterclaim — This is a claim made by the defendant against the plaintiff. If the counterclaim is not answered, it may be dismissed.
- Crossclaim — In a lawsuit that involves multiple defendants, one defendant may make a crossclaim against another defendant named in the suit.
- Third Party Complaint — If the defendant names a new defendant who was not involved in the original lawsuit (as opposed to the crossclaim, which involves defendants who have already been named), it is called a third party complaint.
Step 3: Discovery
After you file your answer, the next step of the litigation process is something called Discovery. The purpose of Discovery is to allow litigants to exchange important information so that all parties involved can be optimally prepared for trial. This advance exchange of relevant information also allows trial to be as efficient and rapid as possible, because the preparation work is already out of the way.
Depending on the Track assigned to a civil case, the length of Discovery can vary:
- Track I — 150 days
- Track II — 300 days
- Track III — 400 days
- Track IV — 450 days
Thus, Discovery typically lasts for a period of about five to fifteen months. But regardless of time allotted, during Discovery all parties involved can use any of the following methods to obtain data which is relevant to the case:
- “Entry Upon Land for Inspection”
- Production of “Documents, Electronically Stored Information, and Things”
- Written Interrogatories
Most of those terms are self-explanatory, but what is Deposition? Sometimes written, but typically verbal, Deposition usually involves an attorney questioning a witness, who is under oath and whose testimony is transcribed by a court reporter. You may have your own attorney present with you during Deposition.
Step 4: ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)
ADR can take place after or even concurrently with Discovery, and in many cases is a mandatory requirement imposed by the courts. ADR can come in one of two forms:
- Arbitration — Arbitrators are attorneys or retired judges who are able to evaluate evidence and render a decision. While similar to litigation, arbitration is more informal and rapid.
- Mediation — A neutral and qualified mediator helps the parties in dispute work together toward their own solution, rather than a court order over which the parties have no control.
ADR may be able to resolve the dispute and render further action unnecessary. However, that is not always the case.
Step 5: Trial
Sometimes, a case can be settled or dismissed following Discovery, or may be satisfactorily resolved through ADR. However, if this is not possible, then the next step is to proceed to trial, which for most people is the most familiar and best-understood component of litigation. The trial may be a:
- Bench Trial — No jury is present, only a judge.
- Jury Trial — A jury is present. However, the jury does not evaluate legal matters — that is the judge’s role. The jury’s role is to evaluate factual matters, such as evidence and documentation.
The length of a civil trial can range very widely, and ultimately depends upon the complexity of the case. It should also be noted that even after a trial concludes, the parties involved have the right to request a review of the original decision. This can be accomplished by filing an appeal with the state’s Appellate Division.
If your company is being sued in New Jersey, it is absolutely critical that you have an experienced business litigation lawyer to advocate on your behalf, guard your legal rights, and protect your entity’s best interests. To arrange for a private case evaluation, call The Jayson Law Group LLC at (908) 258-0621 today, or contact our law offices online.