What happens when I file a lawsuit?

Filing a claim in court begins the litigation process.  This is the pleading stage.  The plaintiff files a document called a complaint, which we draft on your behalf.  The defendant must then respond, either by filing a motion or an answer.

The second stage is discovery.  Each side may take depositions of witnesses and parties submit written questions called interrogatories, serve subpoenas to compel people to testify, and use other devices in the Michigan Rules of Court to gather information and evidence.

Third, the case is sent to a structured process to attempt to settle the case, called case evaluation.  We will fully advise you of this process if and when we get closer to that date.  If that does not settle it, the judge may order other means to try to get a settlement.

Fourth, at any stage of the proceeding before trial either party may bring a motion for summary disposition.  This motion is usually brought by the defendant on the grounds that there is not sufficient evidence to support your case.

The fifth step is trial.  After trial, either side may bring motions before the trial judge to set aside an award or to increase or decrease it.

The sixth step is an appeal.  Each party is entitled to one appeal of an adverse final judgment or order.  This is usually an appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals.  On filing an appeal, this court sends a notice of the time it expects to take to finalize the claim, usually 2 to 4 years.  An appellate court can affirm the decision of the lower court, set it aside, or send it back to the previous court for a new trial.

How long do I have to file a lawsuit?

Deadlines are generally unforgiving in the law.  If missed, often the most severe penalty is imposed:  your claim is barred from court.

But the law is extremely complex.  It would not be productive or responsible to simply list the deadlines here.  It is critical that an injured person consult an attorney immediately to determine the critical facts that determine which deadline controls, and then to calculate the deadline date.

It seems like such a simple question, but it isn’t.  For example, if your child was injured in 1997 by a defective bicycle, is his claim barred?  This question is not easily answered.  First the lawyer must determine where he was injured, and where the product was manufactured and distributed.  This might implicate states other than Michigan, and thereby implicate other deadlines.  Assuming the Michigan statute of limitations controls, there is a three year limit for product liability actions.  But, for a child, the statute of limitations is tolled, or extended, until the child is 19 years of age.  But even this would not end the inquiry.  A creative lawyer would consider enumerable other issues that could create a pathway to justice, and which cannot be credibly discussed on a web page.

The purpose of this web page is to emphasize that these deadlines are critical, and often very short.  Further, to emphasize that if you think you missed a deadline, you should contact an attorney immediately to determine whether there is a viable path to justice.

    Please consider some of the harshest deadlines that we have in our system. 

  • Any claim against the state for a highway defect requires that the injured person serve a notice on the governmental agency within 120 days from the time the injury occurred.  Our Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that this deadline will be strictly applied.  Before that decision, one could miss the deadline, but argue that it was of no moment because the state was not “prejudiced” by the delay.  Our Michigan Supreme Court now says that if you miss the deadline, your case is lost. 
  • If you intend to make a federal claim for violation of the federal Civil Rights Act, you must first make a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  That claim must be made within 180 days of the date of the occurrence.
  • If you are seeking first-party benefits under Michigan’s no-fault act, which include benefits for wage loss, replacement services, medical bills, and attendant care services, you must specify your claim to the insurance carrier within one year from the date of injury.  Furthermore, there is a “one year back” rule which means that if the insurance company fails to pay, and you have to bring suit in court, you can only recover for benefits owing within one year before the suit was filed.  It used to be, before the recent change by the Michigan Supreme Court, that claimants were given a grace period for the time that the file was being adjusted by the insurance company, or just sat on their desk.  But the Michigan Supreme Court overruled that law, and held that the one year back rule shall be strictly applied.
  • If you are fired because you blew the whistle on your company because it was engaging in some illegal conduct, you may have a claim under Michigan’s Whistleblower’s Protection Act.  But that claim can be quickly lost.  A suit must be brought within 90 days after the occurrence of the alleged violation.
  • Contractual limitations periods.  As you can see from what is listed above, state law provides a number of deadlines for providing notice to the potential defendant, and for filing suit.  But all of these deadlines may be shortened by private contract.  For example, if you were wrongfully discharged from your employment, state law may provide that you have three years to bring suit.  But it is not unusual to find a shortened limitations period in the fine print of the employment application, or employee manual.  Buried in the fine print, one might find a provision that says that suit must be brought within 90 days, or it is barred.  Our Michigan Supreme Court has signaled that they will enforce this provision as written.


As you can see, you should have an experienced attorney guide you through this treacherous area of the law.  Moreover, if you think you missed a deadline, that issue should be reviewed by a qualified attorney to see if there is an exception.


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