You may have several questions if you are involved in civil litigation for the first time. Learn about civil lawsuits, including the general process and who is involved. Every civil litigation case has two main parties:
- The plaintiff, petitioner, claimant, or appellant – This is the person, entity, or group that initiates the complaint or files the lawsuit.
- The defendant or respondent – This is the accused and can be a person, a group, or an organization that is found wanting in some capacity and whose actions or inactions led to severe injuries and fatalities.
The defendant doesn’t have to commit any criminal crimes to have legal action brought against them. Most civil or class-action lawsuits are usually related to mass tort, product liability, breach of contract, environmental damage, negligence, or lacking service.
For example, relatives of victims and survivors of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde have filed a $27 billion class-action lawsuit. The plaintiffs are the victims’ relatives. The defendants include the school district, various law enforcement agencies that didn’t take speedy action, Daniel Defense, and Oasis Outback–the gun manufacturer and gun seller, respectively.
Why Is This Distinction Important?
No one likes listening to jargon that only a few people understand. Yet, this is the reality for many who engage the services of a lawyer. Unfortunately, because attorneys are used to these terms, lawyers don’t think twice about using them during the day and during interactions with clients, who often find the terms overwhelming and hard to follow.
Understanding these terms can help make an otherwise arduous process more tolerable. And since you’re either initiating or joining a suit that will help you recover damages if you win, it’s better to familiarize yourself with these terms.
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What’s the Process for a Civil Lawsuit?
Every civil litigation has three crucial phases, each of them vital to the eventual success of the case. Missing just one can cost the plaintiff the whole case, or cause them to get a settlement that’s far lower than what they should have received.
These phases are as follows:
This phase typically takes considerable time, but that is necessary if your attorney wants to win the case and get you the settlement that you deserve. The components of a pre-trial phase in civil litigation are:
- Research – This is meant to help you determine if your case is actually valid. During the research, your civil litigation attorney will be exploring multiple settlement options, the laws supporting the case, the facts about the legal action, and the possibility of an alternative dispute resolution.
- Filing – This is where your lawyer will file the petition with the court. You may be required to pay a filing fee of $200. But if you can’t afford it, you can ask the court for a fee waiver by filing a Pauper’s Oath form (also known as a Statement of Inability to Afford Court Costs).
- Legal notice of civil litigation – Once you have a court date, the petitioner is required to inform the accused or defendant. Of course, the court will handle this for you after you request a citation. Once approved, the citation will be served by a court employee -this is where people are served court notices. This step is unnecessary if the case is uncontested.
- Response or answer – The defendant will then respond to the citation either through a counter-claim or an indication of interest in the legal action.
- Motion filing – Where necessary, both sides can request or file motions for certain things. Examples of motions that are often filed in a litigation action include a motion for continuance, motion to amend the petition, request for a jury, settlement, dismissal, nonsuit, summary judgment, and default judgment.
If both parties cannot come to an agreement during the pre-trial phase, the case will have to move to trial. However, the duration of the case will depend on whether the case is contested or uncontested. If it’s the latter, it’ll be brief and the “trial” will be more of a hearing.
However, if it’s the former, and you’re looking to win your civil litigation, you must have a highly experienced trial lawyer representing you and fighting for your claims in court. Some crucial elements of the trial phase include:
- Unbundling – This is also referred to as limited scope representation, and helps prepare plaintiffs to basically do all the work themselves. Not all attorneys offer this, so you might need to talk to them about this first.
- Procedure – This is the process of being in court and complying with all court rules and decorum. For example, even if a witness is lying and you know it, blurting out that they’re lying won’t do anything for your case. Your lawyer will walk you through this.
- Presenting evidence – Presentation of evidence and frequent objections might be quite common during the trial.
- Practice – Your lawyer will then tie all the evidence, relevant information, facts of the case, and supporting laws together.
As you may have surmised, this happens after the trial has been concluded. If you win the case, the respondent may file an appeal–unless the court explicitly prohibits that. You may also file an appeal if you’re unsatisfied with the court’s ruling on the case.
Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action. Also, your attorney will have to take steps to ensure compliance with the court’s judgment within the stipulated terms and conditions.