How does filing a case on FreeCourt work?
FreeCourt is designed to provide you with swift justice and a resolution of your dispute. Cases filed in court can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to be resolved. With FreeCourt your case will be completed within 35 days. FreeCourt works like this:
Step 1 – plaintiff files a claim and requests service on the defendant(s)
Step 2 – defendants respond to the complaint and have the option of filing cross-claims
Step 3 – the litigants upload their evidence and recorded witness statements, if any, into the Evidence Locker
Step 4 – the litigants record and upload a 2-minute opening statement explaining their case. After reviewing the opposing party’s opening statement, the litigants can record and upload a closing argument.
Step 5 – the case goes to the jury, who votes and makes recommendations to the litigants on further resolution.
How do I decide who to name in my complaint as defendants?
Think about the problem you find yourself in and all of the possible people or businesses responsible for putting you in that situation. Think big – include not only the person(s) directly responsible but also those who encouraged them or put them in the position of being able to harm you in the first place. For example, if a driver caused an accident that injured you, it would be natural to name the driver as a defendant. But if you find out the person was driving a car loaned to him by someone else, you could also name the owner of the car as a defendant. Or if you found out the driver was texting someone when he caused the accident, you could name the person he was texting who caused the distraction.
How do I decide which causes of action to include?
We have simplified the complex legal process down into the nineteen most common types of disputes. The use of each cause of action is carefully explained and examples are given for the situations that would give rise to choosing that particular cause of action. Suggestions are given for other possible causes of action that might combine well with the one you have selected. For example, you might have a claim for injury from an accident, but you might also have a claim for emotional distress. A maximum of three causes of action may be included in your complaint.
How do I tell my story?
Each cause of action has space where, in 300 words or less, you can explain to the jury what actually happened to you and why you feel the defendant has harmed you. You will have a further opportunity to explain your side of the story in the videos you are allowed to upload to the evidence locker, which can be used to show the scene of an accident, demonstrate how an injury happened, or otherwise, show how you were damaged.
How do I ask for what I want?
There will be a place at the end of the complaint form for you to put in the amount of monetary damages you are seeking, if any. These could be anything from a refund for a defective product you purchased, or reimbursement of medical expenses if you were injured by the defendant. You will also be able to ask for non-monetary damages. Examples of this could be that you want the defendant to replace something of yours that she broke, or return something that was taken from you. Or it could even be all you want is a simple apology for the defendant did.
How do defendants get notified they have been sued?
You must have a valid email address for each defendant you name in your lawsuit. You will enter that email when you are uploading your case to the system and FreeCourt will automatically email a copy of your complaint to each defendant. Defendants will have 14 days to respond to your complaint and tell their side of the story. If they feel they have a possible claim against you, defendants will have the option to file a cross-complaint and serve it on you.
I’ve been served with a complaint. What do I do as a defendant?
Once a plaintiff’s complaint has been served on you by the FreeCourt system, you will be able to get onto the site and register as a defendant. You can then select each cause of action and either admit or deny the claims and explain your side of the story in 300 words or less. You will also have the option of raising legal objections to plaintiff’s claims called “affirmative defenses.” The use of each affirmative defense is explained and suggestions are given for which ones to choose, depending on the types of claims that have been raised against you. The FreeCourt system will generate an answer to the complaint and then email it to the plaintiff. The countdown then starts to the trial.
How do I show the jury evidence proving my case?
Both the plaintiff and defendant will have 14 days after the defendant files his or her answer to upload their evidence to FreeCourt site. The place where you will be uploading evidence supporting your case is called the Evidence Vault. Evidence could be electronic or scanned paper documents such as copies of receipts or invoices, letters, photographs – anything you would want the jury to see to make a decision.
What do I do if I have witnesses?
Both the plaintiff and defendant have the ability to upload to the Evidence Vault up to two videotaped witness statements. Each witness statement cannot be longer than two minutes. Rehearse with your witness what you want him or her to say. The witness is free to read from prepared notes or answer questions from you in the video or else can simply speak from memory.
How do I prepare for the trial?
Step One – record an opening statement: Plaintiff and defendants will be allowed to record a 2-minute opening statement, setting forth their side of the story in their own words. The videos of the opening statement will be uploaded to the Evidence Vault when completed. Your best use of the two-minute video will be to explain to the jury how the evidence you have uploaded to the Evidence Vault show why you are right and the other party is wrong.
Step Two – record a closing argument: After each side uploads its opening statement, you will have the opportunity to review the opposing party’s opening statement and then prepare and record a 2-minute closing argument. If you are plaintiff, your closing argument will explain why the defendant’s evidence is incorrect, or why their position is the wrong one. If you are the defendant, you will do the same as to the plaintiff’s evidence and explain why the plaintiff should not win the case.
There are plenty of film and TV courtroom dramas where opening and closing statements are given. Feel free to watch some of these wonderful movies for inspiration!
What happens at the trial?
After the deadline for submission of the evidence, opening statements and closing arguments, the case will go to the jury. Jurors can be people from anywhere in the world who have taken an interest in your case and who have registered to be a juror. Jurors will be notified that case submission is complete and they are now welcome to make a decision and offer comments. Jurors will have 10 days to render a verdict in your case. You will be able to watch juror decisions in real time and see if a case is going your way or against you. At the end of the 10-day period, the trial will conclude and the FreeCourt system will tabulate a result. You will see if you have won or lost, and even more importantly, you will have advice and possible solutions from the jurors.
What happens after the trial?
Of course, FreeCourt is not a real court, and even if you win, you will not have an enforceable judgment. However, it is possible that using the verdict and suggestions from the FreeCourt jury, the plaintiff and defendant will be encouraged to resolve their differences and settle their dispute. If not, and if your case was successful with the FreeCourt jury, as a plaintiff you may want to go ahead and file a real lawsuit in a court of law, knowing that you have a convincing case.
How can I become a juror on a FreeCourt case?
There is an option on the FreeCourt site to register as a juror. You can search for a particular case you are aware of or you can scroll through the filed cases, review the summaries and choose one that interests you.
How do I vote on a FreeCourt case as a juror?
Once you register for a case you will be notified when all of the submissions by the parties are complete. This will be a maximum of 28 days from the day plaintiff first filed the lawsuit. You will then have 7 days to review the materials and cast a vote.
The FreeCourt litigants are counting on the jurors to make a fair and independent decision on their cases. Each juror, when signing up to try a case, is making a commitment to spend approximately 30 minutes reviewing the complaint and answer, each party’s evidence, including watching any witness testimony, and then watching the opening and closing statements and thinking about what a fair resolution would be. Unlike being a juror in a real case, as a FreeCourt juror you have unlimited possibilities in making a decision. These include:
- Finding in favor of the plaintiff.
- Finding in favor of the defendant.
- Giving plaintiff part of what he or she wants, but not all of it.
- If the defendant has cross-claimed, giving him or her all or part of what is requested, or none of it.
- Coming up with an entirely new resolution that neither of the parties even thought of.
After voting, jurors will have the opportunity to make suggestions or recommendations to the parties on further ways to resolve their differences. That is the beauty of FreeCourt – the litigants can receive the wisdom of the crowd, not just an up or down vote.
How can I perform research on the FreeCourt site?
Attorneys often perform legal research for cases they are working on to see if a similar case has already been tried before a court of law and a decision reached. Attorneys can then advise their client as to how that client’s case may turn out, based upon this prior tried case, called a “precedent.” You may wish to search the FreeCourt site for precedents for your case, to see how the jurors decided a case similar to yours. Instructions on how to search are provided at the “Search this site” tab.