What is Civil Law?
Civil law is a type of law that generally deals with disputes between persons or organizations. Civil lawsuits typically involve a complaint that is filed by one person (the “plaintiff”) against another party (the “defendant”), that they believe has injured them or caused property damage.
Usually, the plaintiff will be seeking for a legal remedy such as damages (monetary payment), or a court order requiring the defendant to take certain actions (called an injunction).
Civil law is distinguished from criminal law. For one, civil law disputes are between private parties. In contrast, criminal laws have to do with crimes, which is any behavior which goes against societal rules for safety and well-being.
As such, civil court claims typically have to do with making the plaintiff “whole” after they have experienced a loss of some sort; criminal trials generally impose some sort of punishment on the defendant, such as jail time (though civil lawsuits can sometimes involve some aspects of punishment.
Civil lawsuits can involve a wide range of conflicts and disputes, including:
- Contract disputes;
- Personal injury and civil tort claims;
- Disputes over property, especially those involving property damage;
- Business and intellectual property claims; and
- Various other types of disputes.
While civil courts may handle a wide range of claims, a large portion of civil law claims deal with personal injury and torts.
Do You Really Need a Civil Attorney?
Civil law claims and lawsuits can be complex. In any given civil lawsuit, there may be a number of procedural nuances that must be followed in order to avoid being held in contempt of court, or to avoid compromising the success of the lawsuit. On top of the procedural requirements, the substance of the law itself can also be complex.
As such, it may be necessary to work with a civil attorney, who can help with aspects of the case such as filing a motion. Some common procedural and technical aspects that civil attorneys handle may include:
- Filing various motions, some of which may be time-sensitive, such as with a pre-trial motion;
- Satisfying the burden of proof in a civil claim, which is “preponderance of the evidence” (as opposed to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, which is a higher standard used in criminal law);
- Raising objections during trial;
- Formulating defenses to civil liability;
- Entering in evidence and examining witnesses; and
- Arguing for the proper civil judgment remedy.
Civil law attorneys are qualified and trained to do a job that can be difficult at times. Some civil cases can involve multiple parties, various state and federal laws, and numerous legal concepts and theories, all in one case. In some instances, civil law attorneys may receive special licensing or certification to practice in a very specific area of law.
Some civil procedural issues can be extremely complex, such as those involving dormant civil judgments (cases where the time period for collecting on a judgment has expired), and transferred intent (cases where the defendant intended to harm one person, but ended up harming another person accidentally).
Self-representation in a civil lawsuit may be possible, it can be a risk if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thus, it’s important to work with a legal professional who can help you navigate the civil court system and help you obtain the desired outcome and legal remedy.
What are Some Examples of Civil Law Issues?
As mentioned, civil law cases can involve a wide range of legal issues and disputes. These typically involve injury claims, though they can also involve other types of conflicts as well. Some common examples of civil law issues include:
- Civil assault claims, along with civil assault defenses;
- Civil battery lawsuits and their corresponding civil battery defenses;
- Cases involving property damage;
- Various types of cases involving parental responsibility, such as child neglect cases;
Many civil claims, such as assault and battery and sexual assault cases, may also have their counterparts in criminal laws. Thus, in a case involving an assault or battery, it is sometimes possible for both a criminal trial and a civil lawsuit to be brought against the same defendant. In fact, if a person is first found guilty in criminal court, it may then become easier to sue them for damages in a civil court of law.
Lastly, the legal theory underlying many, many types of civil tort claims is that of negligence. The majority of cases involving unintentional injuries and accidents (including car accidents) generally fall under negligence laws.
Remedies in a civil case usually fall into one of two main categories: monetary damages and equitable remedies. Monetary damages may be issued by the court to help the plaintiff recover any monetary losses caused by their injury, including lost wages, medical costs, and other expenses.
Equitable remedies, such as injunctions, involve court orders requiring the defendant to take action or to stop a certain action (such as an injunction to have the defendant keep a certain distance from a victim).
Should I Hire a Civil Lawyer for Help with My Lawsuit?
Civil claims can involve a wide range of disputes, and some of them can be both procedurally and substantively complicated. You may wish to hire a personal injury lawyer if you need help with any type of civil law dispute. Your attorney can provide you with legal research under the laws of your state, and can provide legal representation during court hearings.