Civil Lawsuit

A civil lawsuit is a lawsuit whereby the complaining party claims that another person’s wrongful actions caused economic loss or injury. In a civil lawsuit, no crime need have occurred but some wrongdoing has been committed. Through a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff seeks money from the defendant.

One major type of civil lawsuit is the personal injury case. A personal injury civil suit is filed by a person who has suffered bodily injury as a result of another party’s actions or negligence. This type of civil lawsuit can include a number of legal disputes involving such matters as vehicles accidents, slip and fall and premise injuries, work related accidents, exposure to toxins, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, wrongful death, defective drugs and other products, dog bites, and much more. A civil lawsuit can also involve contract disagreements, real estate matters, and other non-criminal legal matters.  A civil lawsuit can also be a divorce case, during which the court determines the division of marital assets, spousal support, child custody, child support, and other pertinent matters.

The person filing a civil lawsuit is the “Plaintiff”, and a person being sued is the “Defendant.”  The Plaintiff files a Complaint with the Court Clerk. A sheriff or process server serves a Summons (a copy of the complaint and notice to appear and file an answer) on the Defendant.

The Defendant must file an Answer in court within the time stated in the summons (30 days) or risk a “default judgment” being rendered against him or her.  After the Answer is filed the parties to the lawsuit can request information about the dispute from each other through the process known as Discovery.  Depositions may also be taken by the parties. In a deposition, one person answers questions from the other party’s lawyer under oath and before a court reporter. Depositions may be videotaped. They can also be used in court as evidence just as if the person were on the witness stand answering questions.

Various Motions may be filed during the lawsuit process that affects the outcome of the lawsuit. Also, the Judge may order the parties to mediate their dispute, or the parties themselves may decide to do so. Mediation is a settlement conference presided over by a trained mediator. Mediation frequently leads to a settlement of the lawsuit.

If the lawsuit is not settled or otherwise disposed of, it will proceed to trial before the Judge, either with or without a jury.  Judges in Los Angeles County try to bring most cases to trial within one year after they are filed.  A trial may last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months, depending on the case. If a jury has been requested, the trial begins by selecting a jury. The lawyers then give an opening statement to the jury, explaining what each side plans to prove.

The Plaintiff’s lawyer then presents Plaintiff’s evidence, then the Defendant’s lawyer presents Defendant’s case. Each lawyer may cross-examine the other’s witnesses and present evidence rebutting the other’s evidence. Evidence may be witnesses testifying in court, documents or other physical evidence, depositions and answers to discovery requests.

After both sides have put on their evidence, the Judge will then give the jury instructions and written questions regarding the case and, after final arguments by the lawyers, the jury will deliberate to decide its verdict.  After the jury decides its verdict, the Judge will render the Judgment for the winning party.

If the Judgment is for the plaintiff, then the defendant must comply under penalty of law with the Judgment, which will usually be a monetary award. If the defendant fails to pay, the court has various powers to seize any of the defendant's assets located within its jurisdiction.

After a Judgment has been made, either party or both may appeal from the Judgment if they are unhappy with it. Even the prevailing party may appeal, if, for example, they wanted a larger award than was granted. The appellate court consisting of three judges will review the lawsuit and Judgment. The appellate court will then affirm the Judgment, reverse the Judgment, or vacate and remand, which involves sending the lawsuit back to the trial court to address an unresolved issue, or possibly for a whole new trial.