2. The Discovery Process in an NC Lawsuit
The defendant may also file a counterclaim in his answer. A counterclaim may state that the plaintiff‘s actions resulted in damages to the defendant. As an example, if the plaintiff’s complaint alleged the defendant was negligent in running a red light and causing a collision with the plaintiff, a counterclaim might state that it was the plaintiff that actually ran the red light, and that this negligence was in fact the cause of the accident and the defendant’s damages.
If the defendant fails to file an answer to the complaint, this failure will most likely result in the court entering a default judgment against the defendant.
3. Court Ordered Alternative Dispute Resolution
All cases filed in North Carolina state court are required to go through court ordered alternative dispute resolution. Depending on the amount in dispute, the parties may go through arbitration or mediation. Arbitration is a process where a neutral arbitrator conducts a hearing of the evidence and issues an award. This arbitration ruling is appealable by either side, and if it is appealed, the case goes on
toward trial. Mediation is a process where a neutral mediator listens to the evidence and then tries to help the parties reach resolution of their dispute. A mediator has no power to issue a decision in the case. If the mediation is unsuccessful, then the parties continue toward trial. Many cases settle at this stage of the process.
4. Pretrial Conference
A pretrial conference with the presiding judge may be held in order to allow both parties to discuss the issues in the case. This conference is usually held the week before the scheduled trial. Pretrial conferences are utilized to decrease delays in trial proceedings. Often settlement negotiations resume at this stage and a case may be resolved. However, if the case cannot be resolved, the case proceeds to trial.
5. The Trial
At the trial, each side will have an opportunity to question the persons who will ultimately serve on the jury. Once the jury is impaneled, each side makes an opening statement. It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove each and every element of his claim and, as such, the plaintiff goes first in giving an opening statement and then in presenting his evidence. This evidence will generally consist of the calling
of witnesses and the presenting of documentary evidence. In most civil cases, the plaintiff must prove its case by a standard known as “a preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the plaintiff must prove that more likely than not the defendant was negligent and that his negligence was a cause of the plaintiff’s damages.
When a witness is called by the plaintiff’s attorney, the attorney has an opportunity to conduct a direct examination of that witness. After the attorney is finished, the defendant’s attorney may then conduct a cross-examination of that same witness.
Once the plaintiff has presented all of his evidence, the defendant then will present his case to try to refute the plaintiff’s allegations. Of course, the plaintiff’s attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine any of the defendant’s witnesses. After the defendant has presented his case, the plaintiff has the right to present rebuttal evidence.
Each side then gets to make a closing statement which summarizes its arguments and asks the court or the jury to provide a favorable judgment. If a jury trial has been conducted, the judge will then give the jury instructions on the law and how it is to be applied to the facts of the case.
The jury then begins to deliberate the outcome of the case until it reaches a verdict or becomes deadlocked. If a verdict is returned, the losing side may decide to appeal the decision to a higher court. Ordinarily, most cases are not appealed.