Civil litigation is the process by which disputes are resolved between companies and/or individuals where criminal prosecution is not involved. Because civil litigation is between private entities and the State is not a party, the process of civil litigation is markedly different from a criminal case. Family law is a subset of civil litigation, and while it shares many touchstones with general civil litigation, it has its own code and process that guide it as well.
The process of general civil litigation is both the same and different for every case. Whether it’s a dispute over a boundary line between properties, an alleged breach of contract, a personal injury claim for a car accident or medical malpractice, all civil litigation shares several things in common.
The main one is that the point of all civil litigation is to bring the case to judgment at the end of the process. The goal of litigation is to obtain a determination of the facts, and a ruling on the law by a judge, and/or a jury. The steps for getting there vary widely from case to case, but can be summarized as follows.
First, parties file their pleadings; these are documents which lay out all the claims and defenses surrounding the case. If the Plaintiff claims the Defendant breached a contract, they would assert the facts and the law that supports that claim in their pleadings. If the Defendant has a specific defense to that claim, they would do the same.
Generally, the next step in the process of litigation is Discovery. The parties seek and obtain documents, testimony, facts and potentially new claims and defenses from one another. Requests for the production of documents and depositions are some of the tools parties can use to get this information.
Throughout the litigation, parties can file Motions to accomplish various objectives. Motions can relate to discovery requests, single issues of fact or law, practical case deadlines, or matters ancillary to the actual case.
The rules of procedure provide that there is a deadline to complete all discovery and a deadline after which pleadings and claims cannot be further amended. Any expert witnesses must be named and made available, and the parties must identify all the evidence they intend to use in support of their case. These deadlines signal that the parties must get for trial.
Then, the case will go to trial, either in front of a jury or a judge to determine the facts. A judgment would be rendered based on the outcome, and either party may appeal to a higher Court if they have grounds to do so with all, or any individual part of the judgment.
The process of litigation is very long and very complex. Cases can be over in six months, and can easily take years to get to trial, and can cost thousands of hours of time. There is no general rule for how long a case will take. But the process will usually share the same hallmarks of other civil litigation, and the right attorney can help a person navigate the situation effectively and efficiently.