What a Lawsuit Looks Like.

Deciding to file a lawsuit against someone is often difficult and daunting.  After all, the legal system can be pretty intimidating.  The process of suing, itself, is governed by a complex set of procedural rules that must be navigated in order to successful litigate a dispute.  Typical questions include; how does a lawsuit start; how is evidence collected; and how long will the process take?  Although there are a myriad of additional questions about the legal process, this article explores the basics of the civil litigation process in Utah.

The Complaint.  The process of civil litigation in Utah is governed by the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure.  Under these rules, in general, a civil lawsuit is commenced by filing a a “complaint” with the Court. Utah R. Civ. P. 3(a).  The Complaint must include a “short and plain” statement of the legal claim and the relief being sought from the Court.  Utah R. Civ. P. 8(a).  The Complaint will typically also include factual allegations supporting the legal claim.

Service of Complaint and Summons.  The Complaint and a Summons must be “served” on the named defendant to provide the defendant with a fair chance to respond.  A Summons is a document notifying a defendant that they are being sued and that they must respond to the Complaint or risk having judgment entered against them.  Utah R. Civ. P. 4(c).  Service can be accomplished through various means, but the most common is to have the Complaint delivered to the Defendant personally, or to the Defendant’s residence, by a constable or other person authorized to serve legal papers. See Utah R. Civ. P. 4.

The Answer.  Once the Complaint and Summons has been served, the defendant has a certain period of time (typically 21 days) to respond to the Complaint.  Utah R. Civ. P. 12.  Sometimes a defendant will respond by asking the Court to dismiss the case for various legal reasons.  However, it is most common for a defendant to answer the Complaint by responding in writing and admitting or denying all of the allegations in the Complaint. 

Statement of Event Due Dates.  Once a defendant has filed an answer to the Complaint, the Court issues an automatically generated Notice of Event Due Dates.  In general, the notice sets due dates for “discovery,” completion of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”), and certification for readiness for trial. 

Discovery.  Discovery is the period of time in which the parties must disclose to each other any documents or witnesses they may use at trial, including expert witnesses.  Based on the amount of damages sought in the Complaint, discovery will generally extend for 162 days, 222 days, or 252 days.  Utah R. Civ. P. 26(c)(5).

Alternative Dispute Resolution.   In Utah all civil litigants are required, unless excused by the court, to participate in a form of ADR prior to trial.  Utah R. J. Admin 4-510.05 (1)(A).  The most common form of alternative dispute resolution is mediation, where the parties will meet with an independent third-party, usually a retired judge or seasoned attorney, to explore possible settlement of the case.

Certification for Trial.  Once discovery is concluded, and the ADR requirement fulfilled or excused, either party can certify the case for readiness for trial.  The Court will then set a trial date, which can be several months in the future.

The process outlined in this article is a very abbreviated explanation of the litigation process designed to provide only a basic understanding of the steps in Utah litigation.  As can be seen, litigation can be lengthy, expensive, and confusing.  If you have a legal claim that you want to pursue, it is always advisable to seek the advice of a knowledge attorney to discuss your options.

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