When you have done everything you can, sometimes a civil lawsuit is the next step. Nobody wants to file a lawsuit, but it becomes necessary in some cases.
The process for filing a civil lawsuit requires a number of steps before the parties actually get in front of a judge. In many cases, suits are settled right before trial, sometimes at the front door of the courthouse.
Preparing for a civil trial is a long, complex process with a number of steps. We’ll simplify it here.
After you discuss your case with a Maine lawyer, he or she will investigate your case and gather evidence. This information is used to draft the petition that is filed in court, and a court date is assigned by the Clerk of Court.
The other party must be notified that you have filed a lawsuit, and when the lawsuit will be presented to a judge. This is called “service” or “process service,” and in Maine, is done by either constables or sheriff’s deputies or by mail, certified and return receipt requested.
Once the other party has been served, the attorneys engage in discovery and investigation, sharing information and requesting additional information for trial. From there until trial, the attorneys prepare their side to present to the judge and jury for a decision.
Many contracts include clauses that require the parties to attempt ADR (alternative dispute resolution) before going to court. This gives Courts prefer that parties settle conflicts themselves, rather than judicially.
In mediation, both parties have the opportunity to work with a neutral third party to try and reach an amicable settlement. The mediator works with both parties to define the issues, helps both parties find and reach common ground, and work with them to resolve the issue the best way possible for them. The focus is on resolving the conflict, examining the underlying issues that contributed to the conflict, and working on a solution. It is usually a short-term process, and the agreement may be considered an enforceable contract.
Arbitration is a process that’s similar to a trial, but not in court. Both parties agree to an arbitration, and the dispute is submitted to arbitrators who make a binding decision that is final and enforceable in court. With one or three chosen and impartial arbitrators, the process is faster than going to court, and the outcome isn’t made public.
Small Claims Court
Not all lawsuits are for a tremendous amount of money. In the event that you need to sue someone for $6,000 or less, small claims court allows you to do so with or without an attorney. The forms are available at any District Court clerk’s office for free, or you can download them here. You can also find additional information in this guide to Maine small claims court.
These trials are before a judge, but with no jury. The types of cases that are suited for small claims include:
- Personal property loaned to another that is returned damaged, or not returned at all
- Collecting a debt for goods and/or services owed to you by a business or individual
- The purchase of unsatisfactory goods from a business or individual who refuses to return your payment, offer a credit or an acceptable exchange, or a repair to the goods
- A landlord refuses to return a security deposit to a former tenant with no justification
- A tenant refuses to pay damages to a former landlord that they are responsible for
Small claims can’t be used for personal injury cases against a town or city nor a case involving real estate title.
Although you can represent yourself, if you are not familiar with how small claims works, consider at least seeking the advice of an attorney to discuss your case before proceeding. You can also choose mediation through the Judicial Branch’s Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Service (CADRES), or the free mediation service through the Maine Attorney General’s office.
Get Help Filing Your Civil Lawsuit
Whether you are headed to court, alternative dispute resolution, or small claims, it’s always better to have help and understand your legal options.
Peter W. Evans has been helping residents of Portland Maine with various civil law matters for more than 25 years. Call (207) 747-5114 today or contact us online to make an appointment.