When you see a courtroom drama unfold on your television, chances are you are watching a criminal case. Civil litigation is rarely as dramatic, but is equally important.
Civil litigation occurs when two or more parties become involved in a legal disagreement that involves seeking money or action but does not involve criminal accusations. These cases will sometimes head to trial, giving a judge the chance to decide the outcome, but they do not involve an actual crime. Here is a closer look at what civil litigation involves.
Many different types of legal disputes fall under the auspices of civil litigation. For example, if a landlord and tenant have a dispute that goes to court, or if neighbors face a property battle, these are examples of civil litigation. Other common types include:
All of these have one thing in common – they do not involve any criminal charges. In most cases, they involve money or property, but that is not always true. Sometimes the parties may simply want an action from another party, and need the courts help to enforce that.
While every civil law case is unique, each make their way through a series of steps. If you are interested in pursuing civil litigation against another person, you must first consult with an attorney to understand the process. The attorney will help you determine whether or not you have a solid case, and what the best process is to start building that case.
Once you decide to move forward, the next step is investigation. Your attorney, potentially with the help of a private investigator, will dig into the details of the case, obtain the proofs you need, and start building evidence for your case.
Next, the process moves to pleadings. Both parties will file pleadings, which are initial court documents explaining their side of the story. The plaintiff’s pleading is called the complaint, which states the wrongdoings of the defendant and what the plaintiff wants out of the case. These will be officially delivered to the defendant.
After “getting served” the complaint, the defendant can create an official reply, called an “answer.” This answers the accusations or allows the defendant to ask for more clarification on the case.
Once the pleadings are both with the court, discovery begins. The discovery process involves in-depth legal research, document reviews, witness interviews, and other steps to determine as many facts as possible about the case. Attorneys may call in expert witnesses to validate their arguments, and they may elicit their help to testify when the case goes to court. During the discovery process, investigators or the attorney may examine the scene in question or request specific documentation and statements from the people involved in the case. Discovery is time consuming, and this is where the attorney will spend the most time.
After both sides have finished their discovery process, the case heads to pre-trial. This is when your attorney and the attorney for the other party begin negotiations. Sometimes they can reach an agreeable settlement in the pre-trial phase, saving you from the frustrations and costs of court. During the pre-trial stage, either party can also use motions to ask the court to make a ruling or dismiss parts of the case before it actually heads to trial.
If you cannot reach an agreement in pre-trial, the case will go to trial. This may or may not involve a jury, depending on the circumstances of the case. Before the trial, the plaintiff and defendant will provide their briefs to the judge. These documents outline their arguments and the evidence both parties have. At the trial, each party will have the option to make opening statements, then pursue arguments and questioning, and craft closing arguments. The judge and jury will then decide the verdict.
These stages and steps are common, but not required. Many civil litigation cases are settled out of court. Some are settled during the trial before a verdict is announced. If the case does move through this entire process, it can take months and even years to complete the process.
The goal of this process is not necessarily to go to court, but rather to reach a settlement that both parties can agree to. In most civil litigation cases, the settlement involves the winning party receiving money from the losing party, but it may also involve some action from the losing party that does not involve money. The settlement can occur during negotiations or at the end of the trial. If the case goes to trial, both parties have a limited period of time to file an appeal if they disagree with the outcome.
In many types of civil litigation, especially those involving injury or malpractice, the state will have a statute of limitations in place. This is a time limit that requires cases to be filed within an appropriate amount of time. While this varies from case to case and from state to state, you will need to ensure that you file within the statute of limitations guidelines. If the case is filed after the statute of limitations has passed, it will be dismissed, even if it was a valid case.
In civil litigation, the attorney’s role is multi-faceted. At the initial consultation, the attorney helps an individual determine if their case has merit or if they have standing to fight against accusations brought against them. If the case moves forward, the attorney begins the tedious process of gathering evidence and interviewing people about the case. The attorney also helps prepare all of the documentation, including the brief, complaint, or answer. Finally, the attorney represents the individual in court, presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, and making the opening and closing statements. Choosing a qualified attorney is critical to presenting a solid case with clear evidence and achieving a positive verdict.
If you are facing a civil litigation case, time is of the essence. Consult with a skilled attorney as quickly as possible to stay within the statute of limitations and to start discovery while evidence is still fresh. Reach out to the team at Heban, Murphree & Lewandowski, LLC, today to discuss your needs with a civil litigation attorney.