The legal process is not known for its simplicity or speed, which is why many people try to avoid it as much as possible. However, some issues must be resolved in court and, in Colorado, there are strict deadlines that both parties must be aware of in order to properly litigate your case. This article will outline the basic rules that govern the tasks that plaintiffs and defendants have to meet in civil cases.
1. Statute of Limitations
One of the first hurdles that any person needs to deal with in filing a lawsuit is the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a maximum period of time in which a person can bring a lawsuit. Colorado’s time limits for filing a civil action generally range from one to three years. The statute of limitations for personal injury and property claims involving a motor vehicle is 3 years. If this deadline passes, the victim is barred from ever bringing a claim and from being able to receive compensation for the injuries that he or she sustained. Do not miss this date.
To begin an action, a plaintiff must file a complaint containing short and plain statements describing the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, the claim(s) and a demand for the relief sought. The complaint explains the basic facts of the case, the legal violations that are alleged to have occurred, and requests a specific type of relief from the court (usually money). Other important considerations in drafting a complaint include ensuring that the appropriate parties are named in the complaint and that the county where the complaint is filed is the proper venue for litigating the lawsuit. C.R.C.P. 3(a).
3. Service of Process
Once the lawsuit is filed, notice must be given to the defendants by having them served. In Colorado civil cases, courts require that service on the defendants must occur within 63 days of filing of the lawsuit. To properly serve the defendant, the plaintiff must provide him or her with a copy of the complaint and summons. Once service on the defendant is obtained, the clock starts ticking for the defendant to file a response, or an Answer. C.R.C.P. 4.
A defendant must file his answer or other response within 21 days after the service of the summons and complaint. The most basic response is for the defendant to simply serve an answer. An answer is the defendant’s responsive pleading, which is composed of admissions or denials of factual allegations, legal defenses, counterclaims and cross-claims. However, the defendant may also make a pre-answer motion, such as a motion to dismiss. If a motion to dismiss is filed, then the defendant does not have to answer the complaint until the motion is ruled on. C.R.C.P. 12.
If the defendant is properly served and fails to file an answer or motion to dismiss within the designated time frame, then the plaintiff may move for an entry of default. The defendant’s failure to act is the default. Generally speaking, if the plaintiff makes the required showing of default and offers proof to the court of the amount of damages, the court will issue a default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor. One important consideration to keep in mind is that there is a period of time between when the court has entered default and when a default judgment occurs. If an entry of default has happened, but there has not been a default judgment, the defendant may seek to set aside the entry of default. Once default judgment has been issued, though, it is more difficult for the party to free themselves. C.R.C.P. 55.
Once all parties have been served, all responsive pleadings have been filed, and all defaults have been entered, the case is deemed “at-issue”. This means that the case can proceed to the next stages of litigation. The at-issue date is an important step in the litigation process because it serves as the foundation for many other deadlines throughout the case. C.R.C.P. 16(b)(1).
7. Mandatory Initial Disclosures
Initial disclosures are a requirement under Colorado law that parties that the parties have to make available to each other without a specific request. Initial disclosures must be exchanged within 28 days of the at issue date. Mandatory initial disclosures usually include a list of the witnesses and documents that the party intends to use to support its case. C.R.C.P. 26(a)(1).
8. Case Management Conference (CMC)
A CMC is when both parties to the lawsuit and the judge meet to talk about how the case will be handled. Within 14 days of the case being at issue, each party must begin conferring about the case and creating a proposed case management order (CMO). The proposed CMO must be filed with the court within 42 days after the case is at issue and generally includes deadlines for amending any pleadings, deadlines for joining any additional parties, discovery deadlines, a discovery cut-off date, and the trial date. The proposed CMO must be filed no later than 7 days before the CMC is to be held. C.R.C.P. 16(d)(1).
Discovery is the required, organized disclosure of relevant documents and other information between the parties in a lawsuit. Initial discovery begins when the CMO is issued. Each party is permitted to obtain evidence from the other party through the use of interrogatories, requests for admission, requests for production of documents and depositions. When a discovery request is objected to by one party, the requesting party may seek to force the other party to take some action through a Motion to Compel. The case management order will also indicate the discovery cut-off date, meaning that all discovery will have to be concluded by that date. C.R.C.P. 26(b)-(d).
i. Expert Disclosures
Litigation often depends on the testimony or deposition of expert witnesses, and this process is also governed by strict time limits. Colorado law requires expert witness testimony to be disclosed in the form of a written report, with a complete statement of all opinions to be expressed, the basis and reasons for those opinions, disclosure of the data and/or other information considered by the witness in the written report, refences to literature that may be used during witness testimony, witness qualifications, fee schedule, an itemized invoice and a list of testimony (deposition/trial) within the past four years. The rules limit expert witness testimony to matters that are properly disclosed in the expert’s report. The plaintiff must file expert disclosures within 126 days of trial and the defendant must file its expert disclosures within 98 days of trial. C.R.C.P. 26(a)(2).
Summary judgment is a request by one party for the court to rule that the other party does not have a case because there are no disputed factual issues. The party making the motion is claiming that there is no need for the case to go before a jury, or that a jury could only possibly rule in favor of the moving party. Motions for summary judgment must be filed no later than 91 days before trial. If a motion for summary judgment is granted, the entire case is disposed of and no further evidence or testimony is heard. The party who loses on summary judgment may appeal that ruling to a higher court. C.R.C.P. 56.
iii. Challenging the Experts
Executing a successful challenge of the opposing party’s expert(s) can be the deciding factor in whether you win or lose a case. In Colorado, the admission of expert testimony is governed by Colorado Rule of Evidence 702. Under Rule 702, expert testimony is only admissible if it is both reliable and relevant. Expert testimony must also assist the jury in understanding the evidence, be based on sufficient facts or data, be based on reliable scientific principles or methods, which are properly applied to the facts of the case. In making a determination of reliability and relevancy of expert evidence, the trial court considers several factors, which are outlined in the case People v. Shreck. Motions challenging experts under Rule 702 must be filed no later than 70 days before trial. C.R.E. 702; 22 P.3d 68 (Colo. 2000).
iv. Motions in Limine (MIL)
The term motion in limine is derived from Latin and means a motion “at the outset/threshold”. Parties use MILs to obtain a ruling on the admissibility of evidence prior to trial. In Colorado, MILs must be filed no later than 35 days before trial. Examples of MILs are asking the court to refuse to admit evidence of personal information, certain medical, criminal, or financial records, etc. on the grounds that the information is irrelevant, unreliable, unduly prejudicial and/or that the value of the evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial result to the other party. MILs are an important strategic consideration in each case, and if used effectively, they can either make or break your case. C.R.C.P. 16(c).
v. Exhibits and Witnesses
Additional pre-trial responsibilities include exchanging witness lists and exhibit lists at least 42 days before the trial date. Each exhibit that will be used at trial must be individually marked for identification and exchanged with the opposing party. Similarly, each party must prepare a list of witnesses that will and might be called at trial and exchange it with the other party. C.R.C.P. 16(f).
vi. Trial Management Order (TMO)
A trial management order (TMO) is a roadmap of the trial and contains several important rules and considerations that each party must follow throughout the trial. The proposed TMO must be filed with the court no later than 28 days before the commencement of the trial. Importantly, the TMO must comply with the requirements of Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 16(f).
vii. Jury Instructions and Verdict Forms
Each party must file proposed jury instructions and verdict forms at least 7 days before the trial date. Jury instructions should identify the issues the jury will need to decide and help them understand the applicable law to follow. Jury instructions are an important component of your case because they focus the jury on the specific issues and laws that you want them to.
The attorneys at Baumgartner Law handle a large number of civil cases all over Colorado and are experts in the rules of procedure and rules of evidence. If you have been injured due to someone’s negligence or wrongdoing, contact Baumgartner Law today.