What is a Civil Case?
Civil disputes are about compensation for harm caused by one person (or company) to another person. Whereas criminal law deals with legal punishment for certain kinds of offenses, civil cases are about repairing the damages caused to a person because of the fault of another. They are, in the Constitution’s phrasing, “suits between man and man.” Civil cases can arise from accidents of various kinds, e.g. medical malpractice, contract disputes, defamation, and property disputes. They do not involve prosecutors. Rather, the parties represent themselves before a judge or jury with, or without, the help of an attorney. Even though it is not required that a civil plaintiff or defendant has an attorney, it is almost always advisable to do so, as civil cases can be complex and the stakes can be high.
The Civil Litigation Process in Virginia
Because civil disputes are varied and unique, the parties are best served by an attorney who is knowledgeable in the particular area of law involved. Depending on the nature of the dispute, litigation can be a lengthy and expensive process. Handling any civil law case usually involves the following:
This initial step involves gathering the facts and often speaking with witnesses to confirm the legal grounds for the case.
The case is commenced when the plaintiff files a “Complaint” with the court. This document briefly outlines the circumstances that brought about the dispute and the legal basis for the defendant’s liability. The Complaint does not need to include the complete case. However, it must include enough information to legally support the claim of liability and to fairly advise the defendant of the nature of the claim.
This is the response on behalf of the defendant. Once the plaintiff files a Complaint, the defendant can respond with an “Answer,” which specifically admits or denies each of the factual allegations, or by challenging the legal sufficiency of the Complaint.
In some situations, the defendant may claim that the plaintiff is liable to the defendant for reasons related to the same controversy and may file a Counterclaim. The defendant might also claim that a third party is liable for the damages at issue by filing a Third-Party Complaint.
This process permits each party to gather evidence from the opposing side or from other sources to support their case. Discovery involves written questions, depositions, interviewing witnesses, communication with opposing counsel, all the while having to meet various deadlines. There are intricate rules that guide this process, which is one of the many reasons why having an experienced attorney is so advantageous. In the era of email, social media, and electronic devices, discovery has become much more complex, and without the right attorney, more expensive. Our firm embraces a technology-driven approach to law that is more efficient, ultimately less expensive, and well equipped to navigate this complex and rapidly evolving space.
This is the time when attorneys and clients decide how they will present their case to the judge or jury at trial. All of these decisions will be guided by the goal of persuasion but they must also adhere strictly to the rules of evidence.
This is when all parties present their evidence to a judge or jury depending on the case. Our goal is to avoid having the dispute come this far. Ideally, a settlement can be reached that is agreeable to all parties. Avoiding trial is less expensive and is much less stressful for all parties involved.
A trial is usually the last word on any case and the decision is binding and conclusive. However, if one party can make a plausible claim that there was a “reversible error” in the trial—e.g. by erroneous application of the law or faulty rulings on evidentiary questions— that party can appeal the trial verdict. For most civil cases tried in the Circuit Courts in Virginia, the appeal is made directly to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Even if there is a solid basis for the appeal, however, the appeal is not guaranteed to be heard as the Supreme Court accepts only a small fraction of petitions for appeal in a given year. In very rare cases the trial judge may set aside a jury’s verdict but this is only done where there is a substantial and compelling reason to do so.
As one can see from this brief outline, there is a lengthy procedure involved in litigating a civil case, and each is governed by specific requirements and procedures. Our experienced Virginia civil litigation lawyers will help see you through this complex and stressful process while making sure your interests are zealously represented.
Areas of Civil Law We Service
The civil law lawyer you hire to protect your interests should be familiar with all areas of state law that may bear on your case and have experience defending clients involved in civil disputes in Virginia.
Our Firm Handles
Don’t Be Unprepared When Fighting a Civil Case! Contact Our Experienced Virginia and North Carolina Lawyers Today!
If you or a loved one is in a civil dispute in one of these areas and needs representation, please schedule a consultation with one of our civil litigation lawyers today. Call 888-691-9319, or fill out this short form to get started.