If you have been injured and you are considering taking legal action against the person or entity responsible for your injuries, you will have one burning question: do I need to file a lawsuit? In Washington D.C., there a number of factors that may affect the actual need to file a lawsuit. Normally, when taking legal action against a person or entity, you must notify the court that you are planning on obtaining a judicial ruling on the matter. However, initial negotiations are between the plaintiff and the defendant.
"Negotiations" is a broad term used to describe the process of defendants and plaintiffs discussing options for settling a case before bringing it to trial. Typically, these negotiations do not involve the court, as these actions involve demands and counter-offers between the two parties. The case may not even make it to the courtroom if one of the parties is willing to settle out of the case early in the process. However, at times, if the negotiation takes a long time, or if one of the parties refuses to accept a settlement, you will want to file a lawsuit to guarantee legal action taking place, as well as reserve your right to sue. This will prevent the statute of limitations from running out, and it will also let the opposing party know that you are serious.
Filing A Complaint
The first step to involving the courts in your case is to file a complaint. This process is different depending on the details of the case. For cases dealing with amounts of money under $5,000, that do not ask the judge to impose any legal actions, the complaint may be filed in small claims court. If your case makes a demand of over $5,000, or your case necessitates legal action in addition to an award of damages, you will have to file your case in Washington D.C.'s Civil Actions division. The Washington D.C. Courts website has implemented measures to enable attorneys and pro se plaintiffs alike to file online.
Serving a Summons
The next step after filing a complaint will be serving a summons to defendants. A summons can be delivered by a process server, certified mail, registered mail, or first class mail.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Washington D.C. courts also offer methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution. These methods allow individuals to try to find ways to resolve cases before they make it to court, with outside help provided by the court. A judge will make the decision on what Alternative Dispute Resolution method will be used for the case. This can make getting to a settlement easier, and can also assist with case preparation as well. Alternative Dispute Resolution can come in the form of:
- Mediation: A mediator conduct will a session with both the plaintiff and defendant to help parties communicate the issues of the case and arrive at a potential resolution. The mediator will help the parties explore potential solutions and allow for an informal discussion between the two.
- Case Evaluation: A court evaluator will be assigned to the case. Both parties will present informal case presentations. Afterwards, the evaluator will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each side and give a non-binding opinion of trial success after both presentations have concluded. Parties can also discuss settlement before and after the case evaluation process.
- Arbitration: An arbitrator will be assigned to case and act as a judge. Arbitration is essentially an informal trial with actual rulings. Non-binding arbitration that results in undesirable awards to either party can have a new trial requested in lieu of the original outcome.
If you or loved one is contemplating pursuing legal action against another person or entity, don't go through the legal minefield alone; contact Gilman & Bedigian today.