What Happens if You Encounter a Breach of Contract Lawsuit

Here are the stages in a breach of contract case, concentrating on the law applicable in Chicago. The lawsuit starts with the filing of a breach of contract complaint (click here for what such a complaint must contain). The party sued then has to respond in court. If the complaint fails to allege a proper breach of contract, the person sued can file a motion to dismiss. If the complaint properly alleges a breach of contract, the person sued has to file an answer. Typically the answer will deny the crucial paragraphs that claim a breach, assert affirmative defenses that give additional reasons why the lawsuit should not be successful and allege any complaints that the person sued has against the person that filed the lawsuit.

Once there is a complaint and an answer, the parties start 'discovery'. Each side can write questions (called interrogatories) to each other and demand answers under oath. Typical questions seek the names of witnesses, prior lawsuits and whether statements have been obtained. Each side can request relevant documents from the files of its opponent, and each side has to swear under oath that it has truthfully responded. Subpoenas can be issued forcing non-parties to provide documents, if relevant. Depositions can be taken in which each side can be questioned by the opposing lawyer under oath with a court reporter present to write down the answers. Experts can be retained and questioned.

Often after discovery, one or both sides will move for summary judgment, arguing that discovery has shown that there are no relevant disputes of fact. For example, if one party claims that there was a verbal contract but in a deposition cannot remember when it was made, what promises were exchanged and any of the relevant terms, the court might grant summary judgment because there is nothing to be decided at a trial.

In the absence of a summary judgment, the case will be set for trial. Motions about the evidence will be filed and argued; exhibits will be marked and witnesses will testify at the trial, after which the court or a jury will render its verdict. A party dissatisfied with a verdict can appeal.

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