Stages of a Lawsuit
How does a lawsuit progress?
Getting involved in a lawsuit can be scary and confusing. At Jellinek Law, we explain what's happening and outline your options every step of the way.
This page provides an overview of the stages you can typically expect in Canada for an assault or personal injury lawsuit. If you wish, click on one of these links to jump down to a specific section:
- First Contact
- Investigation & Evaluation
- Demand Letter, Statement of Claim & Statement of Defence
- Affidavit of Documents
- Examination for Discovery
- Expert Assessments
- Settlement through Mediation
- Time Limits
After initial phone calls or emails, we meet clients in person. Usually this happens at our office, but occasionally we see clients while they are in a hospital or other facility.
The first meeting can take different forms. Usually, we begin by listening to you. Sometimes, we start by explaining what generally happens in the litigation process. Some people want to discuss the specifics of their case at this meeting, while others prefer to set up a second meeting to discuss case details.
It's important for you to feel comfortable with your lawyer. At Jellinek Law, we offer referrals to other competent lawyers for second opinions if you wish. No hard feelings – we want you to feel confident that you have chosen the right law firm. More often than not, people either don’t feel they need a second opinion, or come back to us after they have researched their options.
This stage actually begins from the moment a person contacts us. We begin to collect as many details as possible from them and evaluate the information.
We understand that it may be extremely difficult for you to talk about what happened. We want to make you feel comfortable before we begin questioning, and will try to take it at your pace.
After the initial interview(s) and info collection, there is usually a process of investigation (typically legal research and the collection of medical or other records).
When enough information is collected, a Demand Letter may be sent to the person(s) you will be suing (the defendants). What happens next mainly depends on how the defendants respond to the Demand Letter. Negotiations may begin in an attempt to settle the matter.
However, in most cases, the file is not settled after writing a Demand Letter. It is almost always necessary to issue a Statement of Claim. This is the first official document which begins the actual court case. It sets out what you want and why you want it. The claim first goes to the court and is then given (served) on all the defendants. They then have a period of time (usually twenty days) to respond to the claim, by what is called a Statement of Defence. This document sets out their defences to your claim.
The next step is to exchange documents in what is called an Affidavit of Documents. Documents related to matters in issue in the lawsuit must be disclosed to the defendants, unless there is some legal reason to withhold those documents. For instance, communication between you and your lawyer can be withheld. Some medical or therapeutic records can be withheld depending on the circumstances. However, most relevant therapeutic records will have to be disclosed at some point to the defendants.
The next major stage in your lawsuit is the Examination for Discovery. This is an official court proceeding, that takes place in the office of the Official Examiner, where the lawyer for the defendant(s) will ask you questions. We'll help you prepare for this, and will be with you during the Examination. The defendant is usually not present. The Examination is your chance to show the defendant's lawyer who you are, how you have been hurt, and that as a result of the defendant's actions, you are suffering and deserve compensation.
We also have the chance to have defendants attend an Examination for Discovery. This is our opportunity to establish the strength of our case, and to highlight how weak the defendant’s case is.
After the Examinations for Discovery, many lawsuits settle. This is because both sides have had an opportunity to assess the strength and weakness of their own case, and that of their opponent. Sometimes, the Examination for Discovery leads to another period of collecting more information and investigation.
At some point, either before or after the Examinations for Discovery, you will likely be sent to various professionals for assessment. We choose the best experts available – people who have experience in the medical or psychological issues important to your case. Experts who can give a credible opinion in court.
Often, the defendant’s lawyer will also request that you attend an assessment with an expert of their choosing.
In some cases, both sides will want to go to mediation to try to settle the matter. Mediation is usually not an official court process, but if both sides want to mediate, then settlement is the likely outcome.
An experienced mediator is chosen. Both lawyers prepare a written outline of their case, and the kind of compensation they believe is reasonable. Mediation can occur at any time during your lawsuit, even before the Examination for Discovery or sometimes, even before a Statement of Claim is issued. If mediation fails the first time, there can be another one before the actual trial.
Most cases settle before the trial. Sometimes, as late as the day before the trial.
If your case has not settled, and you have to go through a trial, you can expect to be the first witness. We will prepare you for the kinds of questions that the opposing lawyer will likely ask. Testifying can be a difficult experience, and it is normal for you to be nervous. But, it is also your opportunity to tell your story.
Other witnesses, including any medical or therapeutic experts, then testify. The judge or jury will then decide whether or not you are entitled to receive monetary compensation.
Most provinces have Limitation Acts, which impose time limits, within which you have to begin your lawsuit. If you don't start the action within those specified time limits, you must have a valid legal reason why you didn't.
In many situations, courts have recognized that people may not be in a situation to bring a claim within the set time – perhaps because of psychological or emotional reasons. Sometimes, a person may not know for a long time, even decades, that they've been hurt and that it was someone else’s fault.
Every situation is different. It's important that as soon as you can, you find an experienced lawyer who can help determine whether you have a case, and what you can do about it.
If you've been the victim of an assault or personal injury, Jellinek Law has what it takes to assert your rights and ensure the compensation you deserve.