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What is Civil Litigation?
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Civil litigation refers to the legal proceedings dealing with relationships between people and businesses, rather than issues of a person or people versus the government, as is the case with criminal litigation. Issues handled in civil court are referred to as civil disputes, and can be extremely broad ranging. Additionally, the results of a civil dispute often involve one party paying a specific sum of money to the other party to compensate for the damages that person suffered. Rather than using terminology like “guilty”, the at-fault party in a civil dispute is considered “liable”, which essentially means that they are considered primarily at fault for the situation that caused harm to the victim or plaintiff.
Additionally, the burden of proof or type of evidence necessary in civil litigation often differs from that required in criminal litigation. For example, to prove that a personal injury suffered by a plaintiff occurred as a result of negligent behavior on the part of the defendant, the plaintiff and their lawyer must prove that the defendant was more likely than not the cause of the injury.
However, in criminal litigation, the burden of proof must be stronger. To convict someone on criminal charges, it is necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the person committed the crime they were accused of. The majority of lawsuits fall under civil litigation, and there are many attorneys who practice civil law, although most of them choose to specialize in one area or other.
The Five Common Areas of Civil Litigation
There are countless issues which could fall under civil litigation; these issues generally fall into one of five common categories. If you are considering filing a lawsuit against another party for the harm they caused, it is likely that your case will fall into one of these five categories.
Let’s go over the five most common areas of civil litigation:
- Contract disputes. When a contract is drawn up and signed between two parties and later there is a disagreement regarding the contract which might inhibit or affect the parties’ willingness to fill those contractual obligations, the dispute can be taken to civil court. This often occurs when there are areas of a contract which are written in unclear terms, allowing the opportunity for debate over the meaning of that part of the contract. Contract disputes can also occur when one party simply does not have the means to uphold their obligations according to the contract.
- Property disputes. Property disputes occur in issues regarding property ownership, boundaries, damage, etc. Property disputes between neighbors are extremely common, with fences, buildings, and planting from one home occasionally straying just past the property line of a neighbor. Disputes can also arise between homeowners, government entities, and private companies.
- Torts. Torts are perhaps the most widely discussed kind of civil dispute. Torts involve essentially any civil case in which one party harmed or is accused of harming another, whether physically, emotionally, or psychologically. This can include car and bicycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, animal attacks, defective products, medical malpractice, assault and battery, false imprisonment, fraud, and more. The easiest way to identify what kind of civil dispute falls into the tort category is to remember that it generally involves some kind of injury claim.
- Class action lawsuit. Class action lawsuits are civil disputes in which there are so many individuals injured by the same product or situation that it is not feasible for them to file individual personal injury claims. In a class action lawsuit, a group of people injured by the same thing can file as one party against the accused, with one or several representatives from the injured group standing in for the others. Common class action cases occur when many people are injured by the same defective product or exposure to a hazard.
- Complaints against the government. Complaints can be filed against both local and federal government for a variety of reasons. Generally, these cases arise when some action on the part of the government resulted in harm to one or more citizens, or allowed for a violation of someone’s civil rights. In many of these cases, the government may offer a settlement outside of court, but these disputes do on occasion make it to trial.
Civil Damages Are the Result of a Successful Civil Dispute.
There are three kinds of civil damages which may be awarded to the winning plaintiff or victim in a civil case. Any one case may qualify for one or more of these types of damages, and within those types, may qualify for a variety of damages. The three kinds of civil damages which could potentially be awarded in a civil dispute include the following:
- Compensatory damages. These damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for the financial damages they suffered as a result of the defendant’s behavior. Compensatory damages could cover any variety of expenses specific to each individual case, including but not limited to medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and more. These damages often have a finite value which can be calculated with relative ease to ensure fair compensation is awarded.
- General damages. General damages are somewhat more intangible, and may be awarded to compensate a plaintiff's non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. Due to the incalculable nature of these damages, it often takes an expert’s evaluation to decide what a feasible amount to ask for should be.
- Punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the liable party for gross negligence or misconduct. Punitive damages are relatively uncommon, and are only awarded when the behavior of the liable party has been outstandingly bad, warranting some kind of punitive actions to prevent it from occurring again.
If you think you may be eligible to file a civil claim, reach out to a civil law attorney in the field of your issue. For example, if you suffered an injury as a result of another party’s negligence, reach out to a personal injury attorney. Civil litigation is an extremely broad field intended to enforce justice and recover damages for those who have been harmed by another party’s misconduct. To learn more about civil litigation or to file a claim, seek legal counsel.