Having to deal with the legal system can be complicated, especially if you have to appear in court. To start with, you need to determine the type of case you’re involved in. Then, you need to look for an attorney based on your specific situation. For example, if you’re involved in a personal injury case, you need to work with a lawyer who specializes in civil litigation.
What is Civil Litigation?
According to California Rules of Court, a civil case involves the prosecution of one party by another to protect, declare, or enforce a right, or to redress or prevent an erroneous action. Simply put, a civil case is one that does not involve breaking criminal laws, and is where one private citizen or business sues another.
Common Types of Civil Cases
Some of the most common types of civil cases that make it to court include:
- Personal injuries
- Medical malpractice
- Damage to property
- Breach of contract
- Harassment and/or abuse
- Divorce, child custody, and child support.
- Property disputes.
- Probate cases.
- Juvenile delinquency and juvenile dependency.
- Small claims (valued under $10,000, where neither party may have an attorney).
- Collections harassment.
The Need for an Attorney
While you get the right to a court-appointed attorney in criminal cases, it’s not the same with a majority of all civil cases. If you end up in court without legal representation (paid or pro bono), you need to represent your own case. Consequently, if you’re involved in a civil matter, getting in touch with a lawyer who specializes in this realm might be in your best interest.
How the Process Works
While judges or commissioners decide some civil cases (small claims, family law, juvenile, and probate), juries are responsible for deciding others. No matter which path your case takes, it’s imperative that you have strong representation. The process that a civil case typically follows may include.
- Assessment.This involves determining if a plaintiff has enough evidence to file a case or assessing all available evidence to make a strong case for a defendant.
- Pleading.This step involves filing different pleadings/motions in court. Your attorney might file pre-trial motions during this stage. If the pleadings result in a judgment, you don’t have to appear in court.
- Discovery.Here, you may expect your attorney to carry out in-depth investigations, take depositions, and seek expert opinion.
- Pre-trial.After devising suitable strategies, attorneys of both parties highlight the merits of their cases to a judge in a pre-trial conference.
- Trial. Your attorney might present preliminary motions at the start of the trial. Collaborating with experts and arguing your case by providing all relevant information comes next. The verdict follows.
- Appeal.In case of an unfavorable verdict, your attorney may file an appeal on your behalf. Bear in mind that filing appeals requires that you abide by prescribed timelines and procedures.
Standard of Proof
Unlike in criminal cases where the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant is guilty of committing the crime in question beyond a reasonable doubt, the required standard or proof in civil cases is not as stringent. In civil cases, judges and juries rely on the preponderance of evidence, which essentially means that they need to determine which side of the story is more likely or believable.
No matter whether you’re involved in a civil case with a neighbor, a family member, an employer, or a stranger, it’s important to find out where you stand from the legal point of view. Even if your case does not go to court, understanding the legalities that surround your situation might be in your best interest. Fortunately, an experienced civil litigation attorney can highlight the merits and shortcomings of your case, and help you determine the best way forward.