With a little luck, you’ve run your business for years without having to deal with a lawsuit. And then it happens — a dispute you can’t work out on your own. Maybe it’s an honest disagreement over the proper way to read a contract, or maybe somebody you did business with is just refusing to do what they should, or a claim might be made that your business did something wrong. However you got there, you find yourself facing litigation.
A big part of the stress of litigation is the mystery of it all — you don’t know what to expect because (hopefully) this isn’t a regular part of your life.
Because a better understanding of how lawsuits work can help relieve at least some of that stress, here is a brief overview of the litigation process in Minnesota.
General Timeline for Business Litigation Cases in Minneapolis
In state court in Minnesota, a lawsuit starts when one party (the plaintiff) serves a summons and complaint on the defendant. Minnesota state courts have a bit of a quirk that sets them apart from most other courts: In Minnesota state court the summons and complaint don’t have to be filed with the court right away; in most cases, the plaintiff can wait for up to a year to file.
But — and this is important — the fact that the case isn’t filed doesn’t mean the lawsuit hasn’t started. The suit starts as soon as the defendant is served with the summons and complaint. That triggers a deadline to respond. In most cases, the defendant gets 21 days to respond to the complaint. If they don’t respond, they risk having a court enter default judgment against them. Ignoring a summons is almost always a bad idea.
Once the answer has been served, the parties start discovery. In this process, they request information and documents related to the dispute from each other. Much of this exchange is in writing, but witnesses might also be deposed — which basically means they sit in a lawyer’s conference room and answer questions under oath while a court reporter takes down everything they say. The idea behind discovery is that the parties should learn about each other’s evidence so they understand the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
Depending on the complexity of the case, discovery lasts somewhere between 4 and 8 months in most cases. Then the lawyers consider whether to ask a judge to grant them summary judgment. The rules and strategy surrounding summary judgment could be a whole post on its own, but the short oversimplified version is this: If after discovery it appears there are no important facts in dispute, the parties can ask a judge to apply the controlling law to the undisputed facts.
If there are disputes over important facts — for example, the vendor says its widgets were delivered on time and the buyer says they never showed up — then those disputes have to be resolved at trial. Both sides present witnesses and documents to convince the judge or jury that their version of events is what actually happened. Then the judge or jury decides which party it believes and renders a verdict.
Settlement is Always an Option
Lawsuits are time-consuming and the outcomes can be unpredictable. That’s probably one of the reasons most parties find a way to settle their disputes before trial. Parties can settle their case any time during the litigation process — even after the verdict comes in. And during the lawsuit, the court will require the parties to explore settlement options in mediation or another kind of alternative dispute resolution.
One thing to consider is when you want to try mediation. In some cases, early mediation makes sense because it allows the parties to quickly reach agreement and avoid many of the costs of litigation. But that isn’t always the case; sometimes, parties don’t feel they are able to reach an agreement until they have enough information from the other side. In those situations, it may make sense to wait to mediate until at least some discovery has been exchanged. A lawyer can help think through what makes the most sense in your particular case.
Working With a Business Law Attorney is Critical
Minnesota law requires most businesses to have a lawyer representing them in lawsuits. Individuals are allowed to represent themselves, but that is a risky approach that may not be worth the savings in attorney fees. Experienced litigation attorneys are familiar with all of the rules and procedures of the legal process, and they will assess the specifics of your case to determine the most strategic path forward.
If you are facing a business dispute in Minneapolis or St. Paul, reach out to the trusted and friendly attorneys at Rubric Legal LLC today by calling (612) 465-0074.