What Is Civil Litigation?

Civil litigation is a broad area of law that encompasses disputes that do not involve criminal charges. These disputes often involve money or property and can include personal injury cases, employment matters, intellectual property issues and more.

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A skilled lawyer will help you assess the strength of your case and determine the best way to move forward. The process begins with pleadings, which are initial court documents filed by both parties.

Complaint

The complaint is the initial document filed in a civil lawsuit that begins the litigation process. It sets forth a jurisdictional basis for the court’s power, the plaintiff’s cause of action and a demand for judicial relief (either monetary compensation or some other non-monetary “equitable remedy”).

The defendant has a certain amount of time to file an answer to the complaint. This response should include any claims the defendant wishes to admit or deny, as well as any counter-claims against co-defendants.

In addition, some jurisdictions’ rules or case law require that particular facts be pled with specificity, in order to ensure the complaint is clear and concise. It is also important to be aware of how the complaint should be served, as service requirements vary from state to state.

As soon as possible after filing the complaint, it is a good idea to consult with a civil litigation attorney. This will help to ensure the statute of limitations is not missed and that discovery starts as quickly as possible. It is also critical that the case is handled by a knowledgeable lawyer to avoid any errors or omissions that could lead to costly delays or a denial of a claim. We work diligently and efficiently to resolve your legal matter, always with your best interests in mind.

Discovery

Discovery is the process in which parties exchange information and evidence for use at trial. It is the longest part of a civil case, beginning after all the pleadings are filed and generally ending shortly before trial. During discovery, the parties are allowed to ask each other questions and request copies of documents and other tangible evidence. The parties are also permitted to take depositions of witnesses, submit written interrogatories, make requests for admissions of facts, and inspect property related to the case. In addition, a party can seek information from third parties who aren’t involved in the case through a subpoena.

By the end of discovery, each side will have a better understanding of the other’s position and what they will have to face at trial. This often leads to settlement negotiations and out-of-court dispute resolution.

However, it’s important to remember that information revealed during discovery is subject to a variety of restrictions and can’t be shared outside the courtroom. Failing to follow the rules of discovery can result in sanctions and even criminal prosecution. Having an experienced attorney by your side to ensure compliance and defend against improper requests for discovery can be critical to the success of your case. In some cases, the parties will find that they do not have sufficient facts to go to trial and will file a motion for summary judgment.

Trial

Civil litigation encompasses a broad range of legal disputes that do not involve criminal charges. Some examples include product and construction liability, real estate and landlord/tenant disputes, divorces, workers’ compensation claims, medical malpractice cases and intellectual property issues.

In a civil lawsuit, the person who brings on the suit—the plaintiff—files a complaint with the court. The complaint describes the harm or damage the plaintiff suffered and why he or she believes the defendant is responsible. The plaintiff also asks for “relief,” or monetary compensation. The judge or jury hears the case and hands down an order, judgment or decision. If either party is unhappy with the result, he or she can file for a new trial or appeal the original decision.

Throughout the trial process, each side must gain knowledge about the other’s case through a series of procedures called discovery. This includes demanding documents, taking depositions of parties and witnesses, written interrogatories (questions and answers given under oath) and other requests for information.

Before the trial begins, both sides can make opening statements, which help the judge or jurors understand and follow the evidence that will be presented during the case. The plaintiff typically speaks first, and the defendant may choose to reserve their opening statement for later in the trial. After the opening statements, the plaintiff and the defendant can question each witness during direct examination. The witness’s responses are recorded and become part of the record of the case.

Settlement

While civil litigation involves a variety of different types of claims, they all share one thing in common: the parties are attempting to resolve their dispute without the cost and uncertainty of a trial. Judges encourage the use of settlement conferences and other alternative dispute resolution methods, like mediation or arbitration, to reach a settlement before trial. In fact, most civil cases settle before reaching the trial stage.

The plaintiff and the defendant both have a duty to make a fair calculation of the cost and risk of going to trial, including how much they are likely to gain or lose with a verdict and the chances that the jury will agree with their view of the evidence. Once both sides have enough information, they will often agree to settle the case.

The settlement process typically includes a written agreement between the parties, spelling out the negotiated terms and obligations both will accept to officially end a dispute. In many instances, parties will want to keep the terms of a settlement confidential, particularly when it comes to settling a claim for damages that may be embarrassing or cause damage to a person’s reputation. In these situations, it is important for each party to review any potential confidentiality agreements with their attorney. If either party violates the terms of a settlement, the other party can ask the court for help through a motion or a request to show cause.