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Tools of the Trade: Case Conclusion

By David B. Collins

Several issues ago, I started writing a series of articles. The purpose of the series was to explain some of the terms a client might see in letters sent by the defense attorney to the claims adjuster/claims attorney as a case progresses. The articles have tracked the progress of a typical case, beginning with the initial pleadings, continuing with written discovery and depositions and finally, concluding with this article on case conclusion.

How are cases concluded? As previously discussed, cases can be dismissed, early on, by way of substantive Motions to Dismiss. These types of case dispositions are rare. More typically, cases wend their way through discovery. Cases are often settled during the discovery process. Settlement can occur through informal means i.e. the attorneys participating in communications designed to reach a settlement, or more formal means, i.e. a mediation where a third party assists the parties in reaching a settlement.

If a case does not settle, the case must be disposed of by the court. If key facts are not in dispute, a court can dispose of the case by granting summary judgment in favor of a party. This type of case disposition is rare. Most often, the court disposes of cases by way of trial. A trial can be either a bench trial or a jury trial. While both types of trials are conducted by a judge, the finder of fact differs. In a bench trial, the judge serves as the fact finder, while in a jury trial, the jury serves as the fact finder.

Following trial, the court retains jurisdiction to rule on post-trial motions. These may seek, for example, a new trial or a reduction in damages. If one or more of the parties disagrees with the result in the trial court, an appeal may be taken. In state courts, the appeal is made to the Illinois Appellate Court. This is an appeal as of right. If a party disagrees with the ruling of the Appellate Court, an appeal can be attempted to the Illinois Supreme Court. However, this is not an appeal as of right, and the Illinois Supreme Court accepts only a small percentage of such appeals. The decision of the Appellate Court, in cases that are appealed, is most often the end of the case, unless the case is reversed and remanded, in which case it is returned to the trial court for further action.

In federal court, a district court’s ruling may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Again, while a party that disagrees with the ruling of the Court of Appeals may seek to have the case reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court takes very few cases each year. As such, the decision of the Court of Appeals, in federal cases that are appealed, is most often the end of the case, unless the case is reversed and remanded, in which case it is returned to the district court for further action.

I want reiterate that a major part of the defense attorney’s job is to shepherd the client through the process of a lawsuit, keeping them informed and answering their questions. As such, if someone has a question or concern about the plan for, or status of, the case, he or she should contact the defense attorney handling the case. The defense attorney will be happy to answer your questions and/or address your concerns.

Originally published in the Fall 2012 edition of Quinn Quarterly.