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Civil Lawsuits and Litigation

What happens in a lawsuit?
I was just served with paperwork. What should I do?
What should I think about before filing suit?
Can I get my attorney fees paid?
How can I collect on a judgment?

What happens in a lawsuit?

A lawsuit is initiated when a party (the plaintiff) files a petition with the court. The petition makes some claim against another party (the defendant) by setting out facts which the plaintiff claims entitles him or her to relief from the court if proven true. The plaintiff serves this petition on the defendant and then the defendant typically has thirty days to file a responsive document with the court (the answer) in which the defendant admits or denies the facts in the petition as appropriate. By comparing the plaintiff’s petition with the defendant’s answer, the parties and the court know what issues are disputed.

The parties are given an opportunity to conduct discovery. Discovery is a process in which the parties may submit written questions (interrogatories) to each other or request the other party produce documents or make admissions. The goal of the discovery process is to learn the facts of the case, produce evidence to support the parties’ claims and narrow down the issues to be tried.

Part of the discovery process involves the taking of depositions. A deposition is process where the lawyers in a case ask a witness questions under oath. A court report transcribes the witness’ testimony for use at trial. The witness could be a party to the case or could be someone else who is not involved in the suit. Sometimes the witness may be required to bring documents to the deposition.

Once the parties have had time to conduct discovery, the case will be ready for trial. Either a judge or jury will determine any questions of fact.

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I was just served with paperwork. What should I do?

If you are served with paperwork, you should contact an attorney right away. The paperwork you are served with will require you to take some action. It is important that you fully understand what you were served with, what you need to do, and when you need to do it.

At Baker Legal Services we can look over the documents you received and discuss what steps you should take.

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What should I think about before filing suit?

Before you file a lawsuit seeking money damages, you should carefully consider who might be liable and whether you can collect on any judgment you might get.

At Baker Legal Services we can discuss the potential bases of liability you may have. You should keep in mind that while some cases are stronger than others, there is always a possibility in any case of receiving an inexplicable or flat-out wrong ruling. We can help you figure your odds of success at trial and weigh the risks of litigation.

A judgment is not worth much unless you can turn the judgment into money. If the defendant does not have the resources or ability to pay the judgment, then you will not be able to collect. Before you file suit, you should consider whether the defendant has the ability to pay the judgment or whether you have the ability to collect.

At Baker Legal Services, we know what it takes to collect on a judgment and we can discuss your potential avenues for collection.

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Can I get my attorney fees paid?

The general rule in Missouri is that the parties pay their own attorney fees. There are, however, many exceptions to this rule. If you are suing on a contract, the contract may require a party to pay attorney fees. This is the most common basis for an award of attorney fees, but is not the only one.

An award of attorney fees is just like any other judgment—you still have to be able to turn the judgment into money.

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How can I collect on a judgment?

You should realize first that many judgments cannot be collected. If the defendant does not have the income or resources to pay the judgment, then there is simply no money. If the defendant does have some assets or income but files for bankruptcy, then your judgment may end up being discharged by the bankruptcy court.

If the judgment is collectable, you have a number of tools at your disposal. If you know where the judgment debtor works, you can garnish his wages. If you know where he banks, you can garnish his bank account. A judgment is lien on real estate owned by the judgment debtor. However, if the judgment debtor is married then the lien will only attach to the real estate if your judgment is against both spouses. You can examine the judgment debtor under oath to find out what resources he might have to pay the judgment.

The best way to collect, however, is to work out a plan with the judgment debtor for payment. This would permit you to collect on the judgment without having to do anything. The judgment debtor has the ability to pay the judgment on his terms which minimizes any disruptive impact he might suffer.

At Baker Legal Services, we know where to look to see if a judgment is collectable and we can help you turn the judgment you received into actual dollars and cents.

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