Most business owners know that at some point in your career, you will likely need the help of a lawyer. Dealing with legal matters can be tricky even for the most practiced of people, so it’s important to go into legal situations feeling well-prepared and knowledgeable so you can make informed choices with your team. If you are the plaintiff in a lawsuit, or if you are planning to file a lawsuit in the future, there are several legal terms with which you should be familiar. This is especially true if this is your first lawsuit. Even if you have heard many “legal” terms before, you may not be completely sure what they mean, and how they apply to your case. Here are a few basic legal terms that you may encounter:
* Complaint: A complaint is a legal document that a plaintiff submits to the court and sends to the defendant, stating why the plaintiff believes he or she has been wronged by the defendant. Some courts use a word other than “complaint” to describe this legal document, so make sure to check with the clerk of your court or with an attorney in your area to make sure that both the name and the format of your “complaint” will meet the court’s requirements to get your lawsuit started.
* Deposition: After you file your complaint, you and your attorney will begin preparing to make your case to the court. Part of your case will likely involve witness testimony offered at trial. A “deposition” is chance for your attorney to ask questions of witnesses before trial, so that you are prepared for what kind of testimony they will offer to the court. Depositions are scheduled prior to trial and are typically held at an attorney’s office, or other place agreed upon by both the defendant, plaintiff, and witness. The witness will take an oath to tell the truth, and there will normally be a court reporter present to record everything the witness says. Plaintiffs and defendants are almost always deposed as part of a lawsuit. Depositions prevent surprises at trial and can be used to “impeach” a witness if his or her story changes over time.
* Settlement: A settlement is an agreement reached between the plaintiff and defendant prior to the verdict in a trial. The agreement is often for the defendant to pay the plaintiff an amount of money to stop pursuing or “drop” the lawsuit against the defendant. In exchange for money, the plaintiff will usually sign a document called a “settlement agreement” or “release” promising that he or she will never sue the defendant again on the issues in the lawsuit. After receiving the settlement amount, the plaintiff will dismiss his or her lawsuit from the court. Settlements are often efficient ways to resolve lawsuits because they normally cost less money than going to trial. Additionally, trials can take several weeks and may not be scheduled with the court until many months after the lawsuit is originally filed. Lawsuits can also be delayed by many factors. Settlements, however, can often be negotiated quickly, saving time and money.
Remember, that the best way to prepare for your lawsuit is to consult with and hire a qualified attorney with significant experience with your type of case. A personal injury lawyer Washington D.C. residents trust can help you understand any difficulties you face.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C., for their insight into legal terminology.