Columns of Justice

How is a lawsuit started?

A lawsuit is started by serving a Summons and Complaint on a person or an agent for a legal entity.

A process server has been trying to serve papers on me. If I avoid being served can I avoid getting sued?

No. If you avoid service, the court may authorize service by a different method such as mail or publication in a newspaper. In that case, the lawsuit may go forward without you and you may lose the case without ever participating in it. It is better to accept the papers from the process server and consult with an attorney about how best to proceed.

I was served with a Summons and Complaint, what do I do?

Read the Summons for directions on what to do. In general, a Summons requires the person served to answer the allegations in the Complaint in writing and file it with the Clerk of Court in which the lawsuit is pending and serve a copy on the opposing party within 20 days of service.

Can I represent myself in a lawsuit?

Yes, but unless the case is one in Small Claims Court it is not advisable to represent yourself without at least first consulting a trial attorney.

What is Small Claims Court?

In Washington Small Claims Court is a division of the District Courts that handle claims filed in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000.00. Neither party is allowed to be represented by an attorney in a Small Claims Court.

What is the difference between District Court and Superior Court in Washington?

For civil litigation purposes, a District Court may only hear claims involving matters up to $75,000.00 in controversy. A Superior Court may handle a claim in any amount over $300.00. There are different judges, rules of procedure, and the number of persons on a jury. There are some lawsuits that can only be filed in Superior Court such as those involving title to real estate probate and family law.

What is the difference between arbitration and mediation?

Arbitration and mediation are alternatives to a trial before a judge or jury. In arbitration, a neutral third person decides the controversy between the parties. In mediation, a mediator assists the parties in negotiating a settlement of their dispute but has no authority to decide the dispute.

How long does it take to “have your day in court” with a trial?

In Washington, when a case is tried varies with the court and county in which the lawsuit is pending. In general, most cases will be assigned a trial date between eight and twelve months from the date the case is filed. However, for a variety of reasons such as the availability of a judge, a backup of cases that need to be tried, and the fact that criminal cases take priority over civil cases, it is not unusual for a case to be rescheduled to a date beyond the original trial date.

What is a Judgment?

A judgment is the final written determination of the outcome of a civil lawsuit. In Washington, a judgment of a trial court may be appealed within 30 days to the Court of Appeals. A judgment involving an award of money becomes a lien on all property owned by the judgment debtor in the county where the suit took place and may be enforced by garnishment of wages or bank accounts, seizure of personal property, or foreclosure on real estate.

What is a summary judgment?

A summary judgment procedure is a pretrial motion to the court to obtain a ruling on a disputed issue to avoid a trial. The court must find that there are no genuine issues of material facts and that as a matter of law the outcome of the dispute will have only one outcome. A “material fact” is one upon which the outcome of the case depends. All cases have immaterial facts and there does not have be agreement on those facts. “A matter of law” means the legal issue has been decided in other cases and is well settled. Few cases are resolved in this manner because there are usually genuine disputes about material facts in the case.

Can I sue more than one person or company (or a combination) in one lawsuit?

Yes, more than one person or company may be joined in the same lawsuit if the claim or claims arise out of a common set of facts and the relief requested is the same or similar. In some cases other parties must be brought into a case to obtain a proper result.

Can I file a lawsuit at any time?

Once you have a reason to sue someone the lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations for the claim runs out. There are many statutes and other procedural rules limiting the time for one to file a lawsuit. For example the time limitation to sue on a written contract is 6 years while the time limitation to sue on an unwritten contract is 3 years.

How do I know if I have a case?

To a lawyer, “having a case” means that one has suffered a wrong for which the law provides a remedy , the party at fault is known and can be found to sue, and the time for obtaining a remedy has not expired. Only a lawyer practicing in the area of law in which you think you “have a case” can properly determine whether or not you have a right to sue someone and what the likelihood of the outcome of a suit might be.

What is civil litigation?

In general, civil litigation is a lawsuit involving claims for damages, such as a breach of contract, personal injury or title to real property. A suit by a government against an individual where a fine or a jail sentence is being sought against one for the alleged commission of a crime is a criminal case.

What are the consequences for failure to file an Answer and statement of defenses within the specified time?

If one is lawfully served with a Summons and Complaint in a civil action and then fails to respond by filing with the court and serving the opposing party with an Answer that person is subject to having a court order entered granting the relief requested in the lawsuit. This is called a Default Judgment and has the same effect as if the case went to trial and the person lost the case. A Summons tells the defendant where, when and how to appear, defend and file an Answer. A Complaint sets out the facts giving rise to the suit and specifies what relief (usually money) the person filing the suit wants. A lawyer needs a thorough understanding of the facts of the matter and may have to review statutes and case law to prepare an Answer so do not wait until the last minute to seek legal counsel.

If a Default Judgment is entered by the court, can it be set aside or reversed?

Yes, maybe. Under very limited circumstances and within limited time frames a Default Judgment may be set aside or reversed by a court. There has to be some excusable neglect or an irregularity in the proceedings for a court to even consider a request to set aside a Default Judgment and the request to set must usually be made within one year of the judgment. This is a limited remedy and should not be considered as an alternative to timely responding to the lawsuit.

If I don’t like the way the judge is making decisions in my case prior to trial, do I have the right to ask for another judge?

Yes, if the judge has not yet made any decisions in your case you can challenge the bias or fairness of the judge and request the case be heard by another judge. In Washington this is done by filing an Affidavit of Prejudice with the court. After the judge has made any ruling in your case, even before the actual trial, it is too late to remove a judge for bias or prejudice against you.

Will I recover my attorney fees if I win the case?

Maybe, but do not count on it. Washington follows the so-called “American Rule” which provides that each party pay for their own legal fees. A winning party may only be awarded his or her reasonable attorney fees if it is allowed by statute, previously agreed to in writing by the parties as in a contract providing for the award of attorney fees in the event of a dispute, or on a few well settled grounds of equity. Many if not most lawsuits do not fall within either of these categories. Even if you are awarded attorney fees, the award is typically not 100% of your legal fees and may not be collectible from the party being ordered to pay.

Please don’t hesistate to call our offices to speak with an experienced litigator from Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. We are here to answer your questions.