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Ask a Lawyer: What’s a Civil Lawsuit?

Published on Feb 21, 2017 at 12:00 pm in Law and Information.

A civil lawsuit is a legal dispute between two or more parties.  Unlike a criminal lawsuit, which is meant to punish a wrongdoer for committing a crime, a civil lawsuit is meant to compensate a victim.  In a civil lawsuit, the wrongdoer must pay for their actions in dollars, not in time behind bars.

A civil lawsuit begins when one party files a complaint with the court, describing how the other party caused them harm, damages, or injury, and asks the court to order relief.  Relief can come in the form of money or in the form of a court order for the other party to discontinue the damaging behavior.

The party that files the complaint with the court is called the plaintiff.  The plaintiff initiates the lawsuit.  They are the one making the accusation that they have been wronged.  The defendant is the party that is being accused of wrong doing.  When the plaintiff files a complaint with the court, the defendant is “served” with a copy of the complaint.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant may represent themselves in court or they may seek outside representation by an attorney or legal team.  In preparation for the lawsuit, both parties will assemble evidence and call witnesses.  Witnesses may be asked to testify under oath, in the presence of a court reporter, who documents a word-for-word account of their statements called a transcript.

Both parties together will meet with a judge.  The judge will encourage both parties to avoid the expense of a trial and reach a mutual agreement to resolve their dispute.  This agreement is called a settlement.  If a settlement cannot be reached, the court will schedule a trial.  Under the Constitution, either party is allowed to request a jury trial.  If neither party requests a jury trial, a judge will decide the outcome of the case alone.  This is called a bench trial.

The judge will determine what evidence is allowed to be presented in the courtroom.  Witnesses are not allowed be in the courtroom unless they are on the stand to testify.  This prevents them from becoming biased by other evidence that is presented.

The opposing attorney may “object” if the witness is asked a question that does not pertain to the case.  If the judge allows the objection, the questioning attorney must discontinue and proceed by asking the witness another question.

After all of the evidence is heard, each party will give a closing argument.  This is the final opportunity to give thoughts and statements about the case.  In a jury trial, the judge will explain the law to the jury and give them a list of possible trial outcomes they can choose from.  The list generally consists of first deciding if the defendant wronged the plaintiff at all, and if so, what relief or damages the defendant owes the plaintiff.

In both a jury trial and a bench trial, the plaintiff must convince that it is more likely than not likely that the defendant is responsible for the harm the plaintiff has suffered.  If they cannot do this, the complaint against the defendant is dropped and the plaintiff is awarded no relief.

The most common kind of civil lawsuit is a personal injury lawsuit.  Many of these lawsuits will reach settlement before going to trial.  If you or someone you love has experienced personal injury or damage, you may be entitled to financial compensation.  Tad Thomas, Louisville, KY personal injury lawyer is experienced with personal injury claims and is dedicated to helping you receive your best possible outcome.  Contact Thomas Law Offices today for a free, zero-obligation consultation of your case.