When a dispute between parties is not settled through negotiations, either party can sue the other. Usually, summonses don’t come as a surprise, as the parties must first try to settle the dispute outside of a court proceeding. Pre-trial claim letters should be taken seriously, and it is advisable to contact a lawyer already at this stage.
Pre-trial negotiations can avoid unnecessary litigation that may result from a misinterpretation of the contract or law, a lack of communication between the parties, or even a misunderstanding.
Parties and place of trial
A claim is initiated by an application for summons by the party making the claim, the claimant. It is usually easy to identify the parties of a dispute, but it’s not always clear who can make claims and against whom. Contractual and tort liability can overlap and be secondary, and in some cases, claims can be brought on behalf of another person. For example, in certain situations, a shareholder of a company can make a claim for damages on behalf of the company, but when damage is caused by an employee, damages must be claimed from the employer in the first instance. If the party is a legal entity, such as a company, association, or foundation, the party must ensure that the necessary internal decisions have been taken within the organisation to initiate the procedure and that representation issues have been decided and resolved internally.
As a rule, civil procedure is held in the district court of the defendant’s domicile. Some special statutes may provide differing places of trial, and the contract underlying the dispute may have specified a particular court or agreed to arbitration. Certain types of limited-substance litigation are handled by special courts. For example, the Finnish Market Court can deal with disputes relating to trademarks, copyright issues, trade secrets, and unfair business practices.
Application for summons
Only specified claims, which are enforceable in practice, may be made in the application for summons or the claim letter. Usually the claims relate to payments, such as debt, compensation for damages, liquidated damages, or a reduction in price. In addition, a claim can be made for the court to confirm a specific legal status, such as the validity or termination of a contract or the existence of a breach of a contract. The other party can also be required to do something or not do something. There can be several claims, and they can be alternative.
In addition to the claims, the application for summons must contain the matters on which the claims are based, the documentary evidence, and the witnesses. The claimant must state the intended proof or meaning of each piece of evidence. If necessary, the claimant may request that the defendant provide the court with documents that are in the defendant’s possession only and that may be relevant as evidence (production of documents).
Response to the summons
The defendant is notified of the application of summons, after which he or she has reasonable time to respond, considering the nature and scope of the case. At this stage, at the latest, the defendant should contact an attorney who specialises in litigation and dispute resolution.
The defendant can prepare himself or herself by collecting relevant material and writing down related events. It is important that the defendant provide his or her attorney with all possible information and material. A proficient attorney is used to going through large amounts of written material and efficiently finding the relevant information.
The response must contain the grounds of denial and the evidence to be relied upon in the proceedings. Depending on the nature of the case, the defendant may also have claims against the claimant, in which case it may be necessary to bring a counterclaim. In addition, the defendant should claim for legal costs and check whether, e.g., his or her company’s liability insurance, home insurance, or association’s legal expenses insurance, will cover the legal costs.
Progress of the case
Depending on its nature and scope, the case can be prepared through a series of written statements that take a position on the arguments put forward by the opposing party and support one’s own claims with evidence and legal grounds. After a written preparation, an oral preparation and main hearing dates are scheduled. The judgement is given after the hearing.