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The Civil Litigation Process in Texas

10th March 2009
By Michael Fleming in Legal
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The Civil Litigation Process in Texas

These days, more and more people and businesses are facing civil lawsuits over real estate and business transactions. What should you do if served with legal papers? What will happen while the case is prepared for trial. Many people do not understand the process and failure to take the proper course of action can result in disaster.

Generally, when a lawsuit is filed, a defendant is not required to take any action unless properly served with a citation. If you are sued and served with a citation (notice of the lawsuit), there are two things you should do immediately.

Firstly, you should consult with an attorney that practices in the same area that is the subject of the suit. If it civil litigation case, call a lawyer that handles general civil cases. If it is a family law case, call a family law lawyer. Calling a lawyer immediately is important to make sure that your answer is filed in time and any proper defenses are raised. The standard time for filing an answer is the Monday following twenty days after service of the citation. However, there can be requests that alter this deadline such as applications for temporary restraining orders and injunctions. So, you should never assume that you have plenty of time to hire the lawyer. Also, often there are counter-claims that can be filed and the necessity to seek court orders to preserve evidence helpful to your case.

After you have hired a lawyer, you should make sure that the claims against you are not covered by an insurance policy that you hold. If you have coverage, it is critical that you notify the insurance company so that they can provide you with a lawyer and cover any losses. If you don't act in a timely manner in notifying your insurance company of a claim, you risk losing coverage.

Many people believe that they can buy time by filing their own answer to the lawsuit rather than expending the money to hire a lawyer. Often, such people will find a form general denial or use an answer from somebody else's cases. This can be a tragic error because failure to properly raise certain issues in your answer can result in a waiver and damage your case.

Once you have hired an attorney and a proper answer has been filed, most cases proceed in a relatively similar fashion. The next phase of the litigation is known as "discovery." During this time, the parties seek to learn as much as possible about the other side's claims, evidence and witnesses. They will exchange requests for interrogatories, production and admissions. Interrogatories are written questions asking about your claims and defenses and the names of your witnesses. Requests for production seek copies of pertinent documents and other items. Requests for admissions ask a party to admit or deny a certain proposition or statement. They can be useful to narrow the scope of the issues but they can also devastate your case if not answered in time. For instance, if you fail to respond to requests for admissions, they are deemed admitted and can thus admit away your claim or defense.

During the discovery period, depositions will likely be taken. A deposition involves a party or witness being questioned under oath with a court reporter present and taking down the testimony in shorthand. The testimony can be used at trial and has the same effect as somebody testifying before the judge or jury.

After the parties have completed most or all of their discovery, they may move for summary judgment. This is a request that the court find for them as a matter of law on either claims or defenses.

At some point before trial, the parties may participate in mediation. Mediation is a settlement conference which is facilitated by an experienced mediator. Mediators are often former judges or attorneys that have special training. The mediation process usually starts with both sides and their lawyers together in one room with the mediator. They make opening statements and present an overview of their case. They then separate and spend the rest of the session in different rooms. The mediator goes from room to room trying to help reach a settlement. If the case settles, the lawsuit is over. If no settlement is reached, the case proceeds to trial and nothing said at the mediation can be used against any party.

While the litigation process can include many other motions, hearings and appeals, this is a basic overview of some of the procedures that are found in most cases.
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About the Author
Occupation: Attorney
Michael P. Fleming, former Harris County Attorney, is board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
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