What to Expect

Trial

In the State of Ohio, a trial is a hearing in court before a judge or jury to resolve disputes between two or more parties. If a party requests a jury trial, it must be demanded in accordance with the civil rules. The number of jurors is controlled by Civil Rule 38(B), and may be as many as twelve jurors in certain matters, but is limited to eight members in most cases. The parties may also stipulate to a smaller amount of jurors. Trials are controlled by Title VI of the Civil Rules, which includes rules 38 to 53. A jury trial begins with a short introduction by the court explaining the general nature of the case and the positions of each party. The prospective jurors will learn a little about the case and what the underlying basis for the dispute. After this introduction, the attorneys will begin a process known as voir dire, which determines the jury that will hear the case. This process is controlled by Civil Rule 47. The parties have the opportunity to dismiss potential jurors for cause or they may dismiss up to three potential jurors for any reason, known as peremptory challenges. Once a jury is selected, the parties will begin with their opening statements. The plaintiff will go first followed by the defendant. The opening statements provide each parties version of the evidence that will be presented to the jury. The parties advocate for their position and attempt to sway the jury into their favor. After opening statements, the plaintiff will have an opportunity to present his or her case in chief. This involves the presentation of witness testimony, physical evidence, and expert testimony. Each witness will placed under oath. The plaintiff has the opportunity to examine the witness through questioning. After the plaintiff finishes the questioning, the defendant will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Cross-examination is limited to the topics discussed in the plaintiff’s questioning, as well as any other topics which may attack the credibility of the witness. After the defendant has completed the cross-examination, the plaintiff may re-direct the witness to clarify any testimony that was attacked during the cross-examination. After the plaintiff has completed their case in chief, the defendant will have an opportunity to present their side of the story. The defendant may call witnesses, present evidence, and include expert testimony in the same manner the plaintiff did in their case in chief. The plaintiff will cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses. The defendant can re-direct. After the parties have presented their case, they will engage in closing arguments, which should tie the entire case together. The parties will refer to the testimony and the evidence presented during their case and advocate that the judge or jury should find in their favor. It is the last opportunity to present the case to the judge or jury before deliberation occurs. If it is a jury trial, after the parties have completed their closing arguments, the judge will advise the jury regarding the law and the duties they must perform. In the State of Ohio, the jury must render a verdict based upon the concurrence of three-fourths or more of their number. Usually the jury will deliberate to determine two main questions regarding liability and damages. If the jury determines the defendant is liable to the plaintiff, the next decision is to determine what award should be given. This usually involves an amount of money paid by the defendant to the plaintiff. Once a jury has rendered its decision, the verdict will be read in court by the judge. The parties have the option to poll each juror individually. After this process is completed, the jury is discharged and has completed its civic duty.

Summary Judgment

One of the more significant events during the course of litigation is a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is a motion to the court for a determination on a case without a full trial. Summary judgment may be issued on part of the issues concerning the lawsuit or it can apply to the entire case. The moving party must make a motion to the court and demonstrate that there are no material facts in dispute between the parties. If there are no genuine issues of material fact remaining for trial, then the court can issue determinations as a matter of law. Practically speaking, summary judgment is a barrier which the plaintiff must overcome to be able to go to trial. It also protects defendants from having to spend unnecessary time and effort defending against a lawsuit that has little to no merit. If the court grants a summary judgment motion, it has the same effect as if the moving party were successful at trial. Thus, if the plaintiff is granted summary judgment, they will have a judgment that can be executed against the defendant’s property. If the defendant is granted summary judgment, then the case is dismissed and the plaintiff loses the lawsuit. If the court grants a partial summary judgment, then the case must proceed to trial on those issues unresolved by the court’s decision.

Motions

Througout the litigation process, you may hear about a lot of “motions” filed in your case. A motion is a request made to the court. They usually are written requests, but they also may be made orally in court. One of the more common motions you will see is a motion for continuance, which is a request to extend a deadline.  However, some motions can have a significant impact on the trial, such as a motion in limine, which is a request to limit the evidence presented to the judge or jury. The person that files the motion is called the “moving party.” The responding party has a designated amount of time to reply to the moving party’s request. The amount of time to respond may be found in the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, the Local Rules for the Court, or may be specified in a judicial order. If the responding party fails to file a response within the designated time, the court may grant the moving party’s request without any additional information. If the moving party’s request is supported with relevant law, the responding party will need to perform legal research to rebut their position. This can be difficult without the proper tools and training. LexisNexus and Google Scholar offer free search engines for searching legal opinions, but these tools have limited capabilities. There are also resources available at a law library, such as the Cleveland State Law Library or the Cleveland Law Library. The staff at these libraries may be able to assist with researching the issues raised in the motions.

Discovery

Discovery is the general term given to the exchange of information between parties to a lawsuit. In Ohio, there is a formal system of rules that needs to be followed, which are outlined in the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure. All forms of discovery are controlled by Civil Rule 26 and can be enforced through Civil Rule 37. Federal litigation is controlled by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The purpose of discovery is to discern those facts and evidence which may support your case at trial. Discovery includes: interrogatories, stipulations, requests for admissions, requests for production of documents, depositions, and physical and mental examinations of persons. The amount information that may be discovered through these requests may include information which may or may not be admissible at trial. The most common discovery materials are interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and depositions. Interrogatories are written questions that are directed to your opponent. Interrogatories are controlled by Civil Rule 33. Without leave of court, parties are limited to forty interrogatory questions. The interrogatories will be specifically drafted based upon the issues and known factual evidence of your case. For example, if your case involves a car accident, the interrogatories will typically include questions focusing upon the individual drivers, the facts of the accident, the injuries sustained, and any insurance coverage available. Usually a party has 28 days to complete and return the interrogatories tot he requesting individual. Failure to respond to these requests could result in sanctions from the court. Requests for productions of documents are written requests directed between parties to obtain written documents related to the case. These requests are controlled by Rule 34. The definition of “documents” is quite broad and can generally include any form of tangible evidence, including electronically stored information. There is no limit to the amount of information that can be requested, as long as it is reasonable and relevant to the case. Depositions are conferences between the parties where one party conducts live questioning of a witness or party as if they were in the court room. They are conducted in front of a court reporter that transcribes the entire conversation to paper. Some depositions are also conducted via video. The party to be deposed is placed under oath and is asked a series of questions regarding a wide range of questions. The topics may include the history of the deponent, his/her criminal history, educational background, work history, and knowledge regarding the facts of the case. The deponent is required to answer all questions, even if the question would not be admissible at the time of trial. In addition to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and depositions, there are a few other discovery related materials. These include stipulations, admissions, and physical and mental exams of persons. These are less common, but may be used in your case if the issues or disputed facts require them. Stipulations are agreements between the parties regarding factual matters that are not in dispute. Parties may also enter into stipulations if they would prefer to conduct discovery matters in a specific manner not usually performed within litigation. Stipulations are also performed right before trial to limit the length and issues the court needs to determine. Theoretically, this allows the trial to be completed faster that without stipulations. Request for Admissions are meant to streamline the facts in dispute between parties. Admissions are controlled by Rule 36 and can be very influential on a case. If Party A sends admission requests to their opponent, Party B, the opponent has 28 days to respond to these requests, or they are deemed admitted. Party B can no longer question or deny those facts previously deemed admitted without approval from the court. For Party B, it is very important to answer these requests within the proscribed time-frame. Otherwise, these requests may be used against you at trial. Admissions can include any relevant topic of the case and they are not limited in the number of admissions that may be requested. Physical and mental exams occur when the mental status or physical characteristics of a party or witness is disputed. These exams are controlled by Civil Rule 35.  An example of this rule being utilized is when the blood type of a party is in dispute.

Complaint

If you are unable to resolve your dispute through pre-suit negotiation, you will need to file a complaint if you want to remedy the actions wrongfully perpetrated against you. The jurisdiction where the complaint must be filed is an important determination that should be completed by a legal professional or law firm such as Ryan, LLP. If you file your complaint in the wrong venue, you risk having your case dismissed without any consideration on the merits of your claim. Most cases in Ohio are filed in the appropriate court of general jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Ohio has a list of these courts located in Ohio, which can be found here.  However, depending on the nature and facts of your case, you may need to file your case in a court of limited jurisdiction, such as the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio or the  Court of Claims for the State of Ohio. The complaint should be broken into several sections, beginning with case caption, then the factual section, a statement on jurisdiction, the individual counts, the demand, and a jury demand if one is required. The case caption should include the name of the court and jurisdiction where the complaint is filed. The caption should also include the names of all plaintiffs and defendants and whether a jury is demanded pursuant to Civil Rule 38. The content of the complaint must include all facts known to you that form the basis of your complaint. It must adequately describe the nature of the claims as to put all other parties on notice of the claims against them. In addition, there are several causes of action that require a heightened level of description, as required by Civil Rule 9. Failure to adhere to the Civil Rules will cause your complaint to be dismissed, regardless of merit. The complaint must also include a demand. This demand is the specific relief you are seeking from the court. It is recommended this request be as specific as possible. The federal court system has a much more stringent requirement regarding their demands than Ohio courts, but it is recommended to specifically itemize all requested relief even in state court complaints. Include all possible damages, including all available statutory damages, common law damages, punitive or exemplary damages, attorney’s fees, costs, interest, any all other relief you seek from the court. If it is not requested in the demand, the court cannot grant it. When filing the complaint, make sure you have all proper forms completed and have the necessary amount of copies. Typically you will need an original for the court, one copy for each defendant to be served, and additional copies for your records. You will also need a check to pay the filing fee. These fees range depending on the court and type of complaint you are filing. Usually you can check the Clerk of Courts webpage for the jurisdiction you want to file your complaint. For example, the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts list of fees can be found here.

PRE-LITIGATION

Prior to filing a lawsuit, Ryan LLP will perform an extensive review of your potential case.

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We will perform a significant amount of work in an attempt to resolve your case without the need of court involvement. The courts are only necessary if the parties cannot resolve their differences. It is in the best interests to all those involved to make a legitimate attempt at resolution prior to litigation.

One of the main goals prior to filing a lawsuit is to perform fact gathering for your case. It is imperative to list all of the relevant facts that support your case against the other parties. One of the most important facts to ascertain is when did your cause of action accrue. That is, when were you put on notice of a potential claim? In some instances, such as with a car accident, it is clear when the claim arose.

In addition to determining the applicable date(s), you must ensure that all necessary parties are identified and you must locate a proper address where the individual or business can be served with court papers. Generally, a necessary party is any person or company that may have an interest in the outcome of the case. Ryan LLP will assist to ensure the proper parties are identified using all of the latest software and available datasources. other cases, this determination may not be as clear. It is important to call Ryan LLP as soon as possible to ensure your claim is not lost due to the applicable statute of limitations.

After you have identified the parties, the next step usually is to inform the other parties of the potential lawsuit. The purpose of this notification is to discuss the possibility of settlement between the parties to avoid lengthy litigation. This is especially true if liability clearly rests with one party. Notifying potential parties is not necessary, but may lead to a quicker resolution of your claim.

The settlement process includes preparing a settlement package and forwarding it to the attention of the opposing party’s insurance company or attorney. The opposing party has an opportunity to make an offer of settlement. If the terms of settlement are acceptable, then you will enter into a settlement agreement with the parties in exchange for something of value in return. Typically, this is an exchange of a sum of money for an agreement not to bring a lawsuit.

If the settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, then your only recourse is to prepare and file a complaint.

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