Civil Lawsuits in Arizona
When many people think of the courts, they often think of criminal law – cases where someone is being prosecuted by the government after being accused of a crime. However, there is another branch of law that handles issues among individuals, businesses, and corporations. This is called civil law.
When two parties have a disagreement about property damage, personal injury, a contract, or collection of a debt, for example, these issues are handled in a civil lawsuit. Other civil law cases include evictions, small claims, and covenant marriage.
In a civil lawsuit, the person (or business entity) bringing the suit is called the plaintiff. The person (or business entity) being sued is the defendant.
The Civil Lawsuit Process
Although the details of every case are different, the basic process for civil lawsuits remains the same. Here are the general steps for bringing a civil lawsuit from azcourts.gov:
- The plaintiff files a document (complaint) with the clerk of the court stating the reasons why the plaintiff is suing the defendant and what action the plaintiff wants the court to take.
- The plaintiff must state whether the case is eligible for arbitration according to court rule.
- A copy of the complaint and a summons are delivered to (served on) the defendant.
- The defendant has a limited amount of time (usually 20 days) to file a written answer admitting or denying the statements in the complaint.
- The plaintiff and the defendant exchange information about the case. This is called “discovery.”
- The case is tried before a jury or a judge.
- The judge makes a decision, or the jury gives its verdict, based on the testimony and other evidence presented during trial.
- The losing party may appeal the decision to the next higher level of the court.
Of course, this is a general outline. Many civil lawsuits do not go to trial.
The process begins with filing the complaint. The complaint is the document where you outline the things that the defendant has done that resulted in you being harmed in some way and the reason why you are filing the civil lawsuit. It also includes information about why the particular court you are submitting the complaint to has jurisdiction to hear the case. Finally, in the complaint you must state whether the case is eligible for arbitration. We will discuss arbitration in more detail shortly.
Once your civil complaint documents have been submitted to the court, the complaint is then delivered or “served” on the defendant. At AZ Statewide Paralegal, we can help you with the court filings as well as with service on the defendant. Next, the defendant has a limited amount of time to respond to or “answer” the complaint. In Arizona that is 20 days from the date the defendant is served.
If the defendant decides to not answer the complaint, we can work with you to prepare your documents to ask for an “entry of default” against the defendant. This application for default is also mailed to the defendant and they have a certain amount of time to respond to it as well.
If, instead, the defendant answers the complaint, both parties in the dispute must then submit what is referred to as a “Rule 26.1 Disclosure Statement.” The purpose of the disclosure statement is for both parties to list the exhibits or documents they will be using to prove their case. You must also include any witnesses you would call at trial.
Please consult an attorney to start your civil lawsuit matter. AZ Statewide Paralegal no longer assists in this area.
The Arizona Revised Statutes and Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure state that in civil cases where the amount being asked for is below a certain level, the case must be referred to Compulsory Arbitration. The threshold amount does not include attorney’s fees, interest, and costs, and it varies by county. In both Pima County and Maricopa County, the limit is $50,000. At the time a complaint is filed, you must file a separate statement with the Court indicating whether the case is subject to arbitration.
The Pima County Superior Court outlines the reason for mandatory arbitration. The law provides for arbitration “as a method of getting smaller disputes resolved more quickly and, it is less costly than going to trial. However, a person’s right to a trial by jury is preserved, since any party who is not satisfied with the result of the arbitration can appeal the case. On appeal, the case returns to the trial judge, and it proceeds to trial, either before a jury or the judge.”
The Arbitration Process For A Civil Lawsuit
In order to go to arbitration the defendant must first “answer” the complaint. Here are the steps for the arbitration process, from Pima County Superior Court (sc.pima.gov):
- The Court selects an arbitrator from a list of local attorneys to hear the case.
- Either side may strike the assigned arbitrator and another one will be selected.
- The arbitration hearing should be set between 60 and 120 days from the selection of the arbitrator.
- The arbitrator will conduct the hearing where each side will present their case.
- The arbitrator will render a decision and make an award within 10 days of the arbitration hearing.
- Any party who is not satisfied with the arbitration award may file a Notice of Appeal within 20 days of the final arbitration award.
- If a Notice of Appeal is filed, the case returns to the judge who will set the matter on his or her calendar for a new trial.
- If the party appealing the arbitration award does not obtain a result that is 23 percent better than the arbitration award, that party is subject to sanctions. The sanctions can include attorney’s fees, taxable costs, and reasonable expert witness fees.