When you turn on your television and witness a courtroom drama, chances are you’re watching a criminal case. However, civil litigation, although rarely as dramatic, is equally significant. In this article, we will delve into the world of civil litigation, exploring its common types, steps, and the role of an attorney.
Common Types of Civil Litigation
Civil litigation encompasses various legal disputes. For instance, conflicts between landlords and tenants or property disputes between neighbors fall under this category. Additionally, civil litigation includes personal injury cases, disputes relating to intellectual property, medical malpractice cases, employment or labor disputes, education law disputes, and lawsuits involving divorce. What sets these cases apart is the absence of criminal charges. While most involve claims for money or property, some parties seek action from others and rely on the courts to enforce it.
Common Steps in a Civil Law Case
Though each civil law case is unique, they typically follow a series of steps. If you wish to pursue civil litigation against someone, it’s crucial to consult with an attorney to understand the process. Your attorney will assess the strength of your case and guide you in building it.
Once you decide to proceed, the next step is the investigation. Your attorney, and possibly a private investigator, will dive into the details of the case, gather evidence, and build your case.
Next, the process moves to pleadings. Both parties will file court documents known as pleadings, stating their side of the story. The plaintiff’s pleading, called the complaint, outlines the defendant’s wrongdoings and the desired outcome. The defendant, upon receiving the complaint, can respond with an official reply called an “answer.”
Following the pleadings, the discovery process begins. This involves in-depth legal research, document reviews, witness interviews, and other steps to gather as many facts as possible. Attorneys may also call upon expert witnesses to validate their arguments and testify in court if necessary. The discovery phase is time-consuming and where attorneys dedicate most of their time.
Once both sides complete the discovery process, the case proceeds to pre-trial. Here, attorneys negotiate to reach a settlement, avoiding the costs and frustrations of going to court. During this stage, either party can utilize motions to request rulings or dismiss parts of the case before it reaches trial.
If a settlement cannot be reached during pre-trial, the case proceeds to trial. Depending on the circumstances, a trial may involve a jury. Before the trial, both the plaintiff and defendant provide their briefs to the judge, outlining their arguments and evidence. At the trial, each party presents opening statements, pursues arguments and questioning, and delivers closing arguments. Ultimately, the judge or jury will render a verdict.
It’s important to note that while these stages and steps are common, they are not always required. Many civil litigation cases are settled out of court, and some are resolved during the trial phase before a verdict is reached. If the case does progress through the entire process, it can take months or even years to conclude.
The goal of civil litigation is not necessarily to go to court but to reach a settlement that satisfies both parties. In most cases, the winning party receives monetary compensation from the losing party. However, a settlement may also involve actions that do not revolve around money. Settlements can occur during negotiations or at the end of the trial. If a trial takes place, both parties have a limited period to file an appeal if they disagree with the outcome.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations
In many civil litigation cases, particularly those involving injury or malpractice, there is a statute of limitations set by the state. This places a time limit on filing a case within a specified period. It’s essential to adhere to the statute of limitations guidelines, as filing a case after the deadline will result in dismissal, regardless of its validity.
What Is a Lawyer’s Role?
In civil litigation, attorneys play a multifaceted role. During the initial consultation, attorneys help individuals determine the merit of their case or if they have the grounds to defend themselves against accusations. If the case proceeds, attorneys embark on the process of gathering evidence and conducting interviews. They also prepare all necessary documentation, including briefs, complaints, or answers. Lastly, attorneys represent individuals in court, presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, and delivering opening and closing statements. Choosing a qualified attorney is crucial to presenting a compelling case with clear evidence and achieving a favorable outcome.
If you find yourself involved in a civil litigation case, time is of the essence. Seek the assistance of a skilled attorney as quickly as possible to ensure compliance with the statute of limitations and to begin the discovery process while evidence remains fresh. Contact the team at Heban, Murphree & Lewandowski, LLC today to consult with a civil litigation attorney.