See You In Court? Not So Fast
Commercial Litigation 101
As a business owner, you’ll face a myriad of hard decisions as you grow. One of the most challenging choices for business owners is deciding when it’s time to pursue legal action against a party. Perhaps they aren’t paying their bills. Or broke a promise. Regardless, it’s important to consider what the litigation process looks like in Pennsylvania so you may be adequately informed before making this decision.
If the case has an amount in controversy up to $12,000, the case will go to small-claims court (also called magisterial or municipal court). Small-claims courts are designed to allow parties to resolve the case without an attorney present, due to their relaxed procedural rules. However, you may still bring an attorney to these courts. Some districts, such as Philadelphia, have additional courts for claims such as landlord-tenant, motor vehicle, and others. If a claim exceeds $12,000, it goes to the Court of Common Pleas. Amounts in controversy over $50,000 will receive a jury trial, while amounts in controversy under $50,000 will go to an arbitration panel.
Choose Your Path
What's the Litigation Process in Pennsylvania?
- Pleadings. The litigation process commences with the filing of a complaint by the plaintiff, outlining the basis of their claim and the relief sought. The defendant must respond to the complaint with an answer, admitting or denying the allegations. If the defendant believes that the plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim, they can file a motion to dismiss.
- Discovery. This is often the longest and most crucial phase in the litigation process, allowing both parties to gather evidence to support their claims or defenses. The discovery process may include: (1) Interrogatories: Written questions that parties must answer under oath. (2) Depositions: Oral testimonies given under oath, recorded by a court reporter. (3) Requests for Production: Requests to produce relevant documents, records, or other evidence. (4) Requests for Admission: Requests to admit or deny certain facts or documents.
- Pre-Trial Motions. Before trial, either party can file various pre-trial motions to address specific issues. These motions may include a motion for summary judgment, seeking a resolution of the case based on undisputed facts and applicable law. The court may grant summary judgment if it finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
- Settlement Conferences and/or Mediation. In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, courts may require parties to attend settlement conferences or participate in mediation to explore the possibility of reaching a resolution before proceeding to trial. Mediation involves a neutral third party (mediator) facilitating negotiations between the parties to reach a mutually acceptable settlement.
- Trial. If the case remains unresolved after the discovery and pre-trial stages, it proceeds to trial. During the trial, both parties present their evidence and arguments to the judge or jury, depending on the type of trial chosen. In Pennsylvania, civil trials can be either bench trials (decided by a judge) or jury trials (decided by a jury). Each side has the opportunity to call witnesses, introduce exhibits, and make opening and closing statements.
- Verdict & Judgment.Following the trial, a verdict is rendered either by the judge or the jury. If the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff, the court will enter a judgment in their favor, specifying the relief awarded, such as monetary damages or injunctive relief.
- Appeal. If dissatisfied with the trial court’s decision, either party has the right to appeal to a higher court. In Pennsylvania, the intermediate appellate court is the Superior Court, and the highest appellate court is the Supreme Court. The appellate court reviews the trial court’s decisions for errors of law and abuse of discretion, rather than re-trying the case or re-evaluating evidence.
Let's Talk Plaintiffs
Should I Sue?
Suppose someone signed a contract, only to break it later. You’ve got a copy of the contract, and you can prove the other party is wrong. You’ve tried to resolve the dispute many times, only to have the person ignore your requests. If this happens, it may be a good time to evaluate whether you want to bring a lawsuit to enforce the contract.
Let's Talk Defendants
What if I Am Sued?
Remember, there is no “bad guy” in litigation. Just because you have been named a defendant, this does not mean you’re in the wrong. Often, lawsuits are a mixture of fault and rarely is a defendant solely liable. Although it may be scary to see your name listed as a defendant in a lawsuit, at ESQx, we’ll help you formulate a legal strategy.
Ready to Get Started?
There’s so much more we want to tell you about forming a business if you’ll give us the chance! If you’re ready to receive experienced business law litigation advice, don’t hesitate to reach out today. We can’t wait to meet you. Did we mention every consultation is free?