Navigating the Stages of Commercial Litigation: A Comprehensive Guide for Business Owners

As a business owner in New York, navigating the complexities of commercial litigation can be daunting. The New York State Supreme Court handles a wide array of business disputes, and understanding the different stages of a commercial litigation case is crucial to protecting your interests. In this article, Woods Lonergan explains what business owners should expect if they are involved in a commercial litigation case, from the case’s initial assessment to the potential appeal process. 

At Woods Lonergan, our clients are our top priority. Whether you need guidance on a particular legal matter or are facing a complex legal challenge, we do everything in our power to put your best interests first. If you have any questions on how to navigate the stages of the commercial litigation process, do not hesitate to connect with our legal team.  

Step 1: Pre-Litigation

Assessing the Dispute and Negotiating with the Involved Parties

The first step in any commercial litigation case is to assess the dispute and determine if it can be resolved through negotiation or alternative dispute resolution methods. At this stage, our litigators advise clients on the merits of their individual cases, analyze potential risks and benefits, and identify the best course of action to achieve their goals. Through settlement negotiations or mediation, it may be possible to avoid litigation altogether. 

Step 2: Pleadings

Initiating and Responding to the Lawsuit

If a resolution cannot be reached, the next stage is to initiate the lawsuit by filing a summons and complaint with the New York State Supreme Court. The complaint outlines the factual and legal basis for the plaintiff’s claims and requests relief in the form of damages or specific performance. The defendant then has the opportunity to respond by filing an answer, which may include affirmative defenses and counterclaims. This stage of litigation, known as the pleadings stage, sets the foundation for the rest of the case.

Step 3: Discovery

Exchanging Information and Evidence

Discovery is a critical phase in commercial litigation, as it allows parties to gather information and evidence from each other to build their cases. This process can include written discovery, such as interrogatories (written questions) and requests for documents, as well as depositions, where witnesses are questioned under oath. Both parties have the opportunity to object to certain discovery requests if they believe the requests are overly broad, unduly burdensome, or otherwise improper.

Step 4: Motion Practice

Seeking Court Intervention

During the course of litigation, parties may need to file various motions that seek court intervention on procedural and substantive issues. These motions include:

  • Motion to Dismiss: A motion to dismiss is filed to request the dismissal of a case due to failure to state a claim or lack of jurisdiction.
  • Motion for Summary Judgment: A motion for summary judgment seeks resolution without a trial, based on undisputed facts of the case. 
  • Motion to Compel Discovery: A motion to compel discovery requests court intervention to obtain necessary information from the opposing party. 

The court’s rulings on these can significantly impact the trajectory of the case. 

Step 5: Pre-Trial Conference

Preparing for Trial and Addressing the Issues At-Hand

As the case progresses, the court may schedule a pre-trial conference to discuss the status of the case, explore settlement possibilities, and address any outstanding issues. This conference provides an opportunity for the parties to streamline the case and prepare for trial. Trial preparation may involve finalizing witness lists, preparing exhibits, and crafting opening and closing arguments.

Step 6: Trial

Presenting the Case to a Judge or Jury

If the case proceeds to trial, both parties will have the opportunity to present their evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments before a judge or jury. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, who must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable for the alleged claims. After both parties have presented their cases, the judge or jury will deliberate and render a decision that will determine the outcome of the case.

Step 7: Post-Trial

Motioning for a New Trial or Filing an Appeal

Following the verdict, parties may file post-trial motions, such as motions for a new trial or to set aside the verdict. If a party is dissatisfied with the court’s decision, they may also have the option to appeal the case to the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. 

The appeals process can be lengthy and complex, requiring a thorough understanding of appellate procedure and legal standards. With each one of our clients, we believe in building strong, lasting relationships. If the outcome of your case is not favorable, we will be here to guide you through the appellate process and strategize to achieve your goals. 

Step 8: Final Judgment

Enforcement of Judgments and Collection

Once a final judgment has been issued, the prevailing party must enforce the judgment and collect the awarded damages. In New York, judgment enforcement can involve a variety of methods, including wage garnishment, property liens, and bank account levies. 

It is essential for the prevailing party to work with experienced legal counsel to navigate the enforcement process and ensure the most effective collection strategies are utilized. Our attorneys can provide you with a personalized strategy that will consider your business, industry, and objectives. 

Step 9: Settlements and Alternative Dispute Resolution

Reaching a Mutual Agreement

It is very important to remember that at any stage of the litigation process, the parties may choose to explore settlement options or alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or arbitration. These alternatives can save time and resources, allowing the parties to reach a mutually agreeable resolution without the uncertainty of a trial. While settlements and alternative dispute resolution may not always be suitable for every case, it is crucial for business owners to consider these options as part of their overall litigation strategy.

Understanding the stages of commercial litigation in the New York State Supreme Court is essential for business owners involved in complex disputes. Our litigators have a wealth of experience. We can help business owners effectively navigate each stage of the litigation process, protect their interests, and achieve the best possible outcome for their case. 

We have a deep understanding of the law and are committed to staying up-to-date on the latest legal developments. No matter the size of your business or how complex your legal issue is, our legal team will provide you with comprehensive and personalized guidance. 

The Woods Lonergan Advantage

We believe our agile structure results in a cost-effective approach for our clients to obtain optimal results and protect their most important assets. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your commercial litigation matter, please book a call to discuss your specific legal issue.