A civil case occurs when there is a legal dispute between two or more parties that cannot be resolved. The process of a civil case usually remains consistent among the states, with a number of steps that must be taken to get the process started. Once a person feels or determines they have incurred damages in some way that cannot be resolved among the parties, they can contact the clerk of courts office to file a claim.
Who Is Who
The person making the claim is called the plaintiff, and the other party is deemed the defendant in the case. There may be one or more plaintiffs and one or more defendants named in the complaint. The complaint is filed in the Clerk of Courts office, where a case number will be issued for the complaint and legally filed into the system. Once this process has started, a chain of events follows:
- The summons and complaint is then delivered to the defendant(s) by the sheriff’s office, but can be served by anyone over the age of 18 who is independent of the case.
- After being served, the defendant(s) in the case must respond to the initial complaint within 20 days of the date of service.
- If the defendant(s) do not respond within 20 days, the plaintiff may obtain a default judgment against the defendant for the damages specified in the claim.
- If the defendant responds, there is a discovery process that takes place between the parties that result in a number of motions to produce documents which may result in more responses (answers) to the motions.
- The plaintiff or the defendant will file a motion to get the case put on the trial calendar.
- As the case proceeds, there will be a motion for judgment that may result at any time during the court proceeding.
- There may be witnesses that are called to testify on behalf of one of the parties through a deposition process. During a deposition, the witness is under oath and their statements are recorded by a court reporter to get the statements on record.
- There may be a mediation or arbitration attempt to get the situation resolved prior to the trial. This is the preferred method of the courts, unless the case is so serious that involvement from a judge is the only option.
- Prior to the trial, there may or may not be a pretrial conference
- After the trial has begun, there will be an entry of judgment in which the case is resolved by an agreement entered between the parties or by court order or jury verdict. There may also be an order entered by the judge that will dispose the case.
- After the judgment is issued, if either party is unsatisfied with the verdict, they may file an appeal to take the case for evaluation before a higher court.
- As a last resort, if a judgment is issued and the defendant(s) do not comply, the plaintiff may readdress the court for garnishment of wages, citations for the defendant(s) to appear in court for noncompliance or a warrant may be issued if the defendant does not appear.
Looking To File
Although the process may not have to go through all of these steps, this is a general breakdown of what is generally entailed for plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) who go through the entire process. If you are looking to file a civil claim, it is best to get counsel from an attorney who can weigh your options and give you concrete guidance.