Civil litigation refers to the legal process followed by individuals or entities to resolve disputes through the court system. It can involve a wide range of issues, such as contract disputes, personal injury claims, property disputes, and more. If you find yourself involved in a legal dispute, understanding the steps involved in civil litigation can help you navigate through the process effectively.

In Wisconsin, there are several distinct stages of civil litigation. While each case is unique and may have its own complexities, here are the general steps followed when litigating disputes in civil courts:

1. Pre-Litigation Phase

A civil dispute will typically begin when the plaintiff sends a demand letter to the defendant detailing their claims. Before initiating formal legal proceedings, the parties may attempt to resolve the issue outside of court. They may engage in negotiations or mediation to try to reach an agreement without going through a full trial. If disputes can be resolved at this stage, the parties will usually be able to save time and avoid the costs associated with courtroom proceedings.

2. Complaint, Summons, and Pleadings

A civil lawsuit will be initiated when the plaintiff files a complaint in a Wisconsin court. The complaint will outline the plaintiff’s claims along with relevant facts supporting their position while identifying the defendant or defendants. The complaint and a summons must then be served to the defendant. Once served with a complaint, the defendant may respond with an answer admitting or denying the plaintiff’s claims. The pleadings filed by both parties will determine the issues that will be addressed in a case and the factors that may play a role in the legal proceedings.

3. Discovery Phase

After the pleading stage, both parties will engage in discovery. Each side will gather evidence and information to support their claims or defenses. Discovery methods may include:

  • Interrogatories, which consist of written questions sent by one party to the other

  • Depositions, which are oral statements made by witnesses or parties involved in the case, taken under oath

  • Requests for production of documents, which will be formal requests for one party to provide documents relevant to the case

  • Requests for admissions, which may consist of a set of statements that one party sends to the other requesting them to admit or deny certain facts about the case

4. Pre-Trial Phase

The parties will prepare for trial by compiling evidence, identifying witnesses who may testify, and determining the strategies that may be used when arguing a case before a judge and/or jury. Pre-trial motions may be filed, including requests for summary judgment or requests that a judge determine what types of evidence may be admitted or what specific issues will be addressed. The parties may also attempt to negotiate a settlement that will allow them to resolve their issues without proceeding to trial, and they may use mediation or other methods to do so.

5. Trial Phase and Judgment

If attempts at reaching a settlement do not succeed, the case may proceed to trial. During a trial, each party will present their case by making arguments, questioning or cross-examining witnesses, and presenting evidence. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge or jury will issue a ruling. They may decide in favor of one party and order the other party to make a monetary payment or perform certain actions.