Is a trial the easiest way to resolve your construction dispute?

If you are a plumber, electrician or other contractor in the Nashville area you know that projects do not always go as planned. Sometimes disputes come up between contractors and subcontractors or between contractors and owners, and while many of these disputes can be settled with a simple discussion, other times a dispute can only be resolved by filing a lawsuit.

You may think that litigation will be a relatively quick and easy way to resolve your dispute, but this is not always the case. In the best-case scenario, the litigation process may be completed within a matter of months but oftentimes it can last a year or more. Contractors thinking of filing a lawsuit will want to make sure they understand what they are getting into should they go through with the litigation process.

Starting the litigation process

The first step in the litigation process is to file a complaint with the court. The complaint describes the damages you suffered, how the defendant caused these damages, that the court has jurisdiction to hear your case and that you are formally asking the court for compensation or to order the defendant to stop the conduct that is harming you. This complaint will be “served” to the defendant who has the option to file a response stating why they disagree with the points contained in the complaint.

Preparing your case

After a complaint has been filed and served and the defendant has responded to the complaint, you and the defendant will begin preparing your respective cases. For example, both parties will go through the “discovery” process in which they each must provide information to one another regarding the case. For example, they may ask for copies of important documents or ask for the identity of witnesses. Both parties also have the option of filing “motions” asking the court to rule on the evidence uncovered in the discovery process or rule on the procedures that will be followed when the case goes to trial. Discovery also may include the deposition of witnesses. This means the witness will answer questions under oath, which will be documented by a court reporter.

Settling out-of-court

Judges in Tennessee will often encourage you and the other party to settle your dispute out-of-court. This avoids having to go through the full trial process. If a settlement cannot be reached, a trial will be scheduled. The U.S. Constitution provides both parties with the right to a jury trial if they want. If this right is waived, meaning that you understand your rights and knowingly decline a jury trial, the judge alone will hear your case.

The trial process

If a settlement fails, the case will then move through the trial process. You and the defendant will give opening statements. Following the rules of evidence, the judge will decide what information, such as documents, photographs or other items can be presented in court. Witnesses will testify on your behalf (examination), and the defense can also question them after they give their testimony (cross-examination). Vice-versa the defendant may also produce witnesses and you have the option of cross-examining them. The trial proceedings will be documented by a court reporter, and the deputy clerk of court will keep a record of all testifying witnesses and evidence submitted to the court.

Closing the case and reaching a verdict

Once all evidence is submitted and heard, you and the defendant will give a closing argument. If you are having a jury trial, the judge will give the jury instructions they need to follow when making their decision. If the case is only being heard by a judge, the judge will issue an order either in your favor or the defendant’s favor. The case must be decided by a “preponderance of the evidence.” That means it is more likely than not that the other party caused your harm, and you should be compensated.

Trials can be lengthy, costly and arduous

As this shows, litigation can be lengthy, costly and arduous. You may settle your disagreement at any point during the trial process, which could save you time and money allowing the project to continue moving forward. However, sometimes a full trial is the only way for your dispute to be settled. You should make sure to understand all your dispute resolution options before committing to the trial process.