Civil litigation is a broad term. It is a legal process by which one or more parties seek court intervention to sort out a non-criminal legal dispute. Civil litigation is a type of lawsuit that can cover a wide range of subject matters: personal injury, breach of contract, landlord-tenant issues, employment matters, construction defects, real estate disputes, intellectual property issues, and more. In fact, generally speaking, anyone can sue any person at any time for any reason. However, successful litigation requires careful analysis, strategy, and argumentation. Knowledge of both the facts and applicable law is an absolute must.
Civil Litigation Process
If you are considering filing a civil lawsuit, it is important to be educated about the process. Litigation usually begins with the complaining party (the Plaintiff) filing a court document called a Complaint, which spells out the Plaintiff’s grievances against one or more Defendants. The Plaintiff serves the Complaint with a Summons (the document explaining the existence of the lawsuit) on the Defendant. The Summons and Complaint must be served in a particular way, identified in applicable state or federal court rules. The Defendant then has an opportunity to file a responsive document, called an Answer. The Answer allows the Defendant to raise defenses and, if applicable, counterclaims against the Plaintiff. The deadline for filing an Answer is very short, usually less than a month after service of the Complaint and Summons. Failure to timely file an Answer may allow the Plaintiff to receive a judgment award automatically.
Once an Answer is filed, the parties usually have an opportunity to request pertinent documents from each other via requests for production, or from third parties via subpoena. This part of the process is referred to as the “discovery phase”, and often takes several months (or even years). The parties may also take depositions (interviews recorded on the record) of each other or third parties. Discovery rules differ between states, so litigants must be aware which discovery requests are allowed and which are not. Once the parties have the necessary information to litigate, they may decide to make pretrial dispositive motions, such as motions for summary judgment, asking the court to adjudicate the dispute as a matter of law. If no such dispositive motions are granted, the parties move on to the next step: trial or arbitration.
Trial is the process by which a court adjudicates the parties’ dispute. In a courtroom, the parties put on the evidence they gathered from the discovery phase or that they already had, and then seek a remedy from a neutral finder of fact, such as a jury or judge. An arbitration proceeding works similarly, though the arbitrator makes determinations instead of a judge or jury and they are conducted in a private setting. Trial may be only half a day, several weeks, or even longer, but it is the final step before a judgement award is made.
After one or both parties are issued an award, the parties may need to use certain collection vehicles to recover the judgment amount. To facilitate the collection, Judgment liens against real property, garnishment of bank accounts, and other similar processes may be available, depending on the nature of the judgment.
Of course, the parties may decide to agree to resolve the dispute any time prior to a judgment. In fact, most cases settle before trial for a wide variety of reasons. Knowing when and how to settle requires a critical, professional study of the case’s strengths and weaknesses. Settlement is common but it is not always advisable.
Civil litigation is stressful, time-consuming, and expensive, especially if it is conducted without an experienced attorney. Whether you are trying to recover from someone who has wronged you, or you’ve been served with a summons and complaint, there’s no time to lose. Call Navigate Law Group today for a consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What matters can be considered as a civil case?
A civil case is any dispute over money or equitable relief (such as an injunction, that is not governed by criminal law. Therefore, common civil claims are car crashed, breach of contract, property disputes, tort claims, etc.
How do I file a civil lawsuit in Washington State?
To file a lawsuit, you must file what is called a “Complaint” outlining your claim(s) or causes of actions. Each claim must be backed up by specific articulable facts that make up elements of specific claims that are actionable under the law. Some lawsuits, such as small claims actions, do not allow for the representation of an attorney. However, in District or Superior Court, it is strongly recommended that someone hires an attorney before they file a civil lawsuit.
Does suing someone cost money?
Yes. There are common court fees and costs such as filing fees, costs for depositions, expert witnesses etc. In addition, attorneys typically will charge you one of a few ways: (1) by the hour; (2) a flat fee; or (3) on a contingent basis, meaning you agree to share a particular percentage with the attorney of your recovery, usually about a third.
In short, there are many costs associated with civil litigation, and you should talk to your attorney to get an idea of what those costs will be.
Do I need a lawyer to file a lawsuit?
As discussed above, it is strongly recommended that you hire an experienced attorney that can help you along the very complicated and strenuous legal process. Although you can take the case “pro se” or without an attorney, it is not advised that you do so. If you can afford an attorney, make sure that you hire one to represent you.
What happens if you sue someone and they don't pay?
There are many ways to collect judgments that the losing party refuses to pay. In some cases you can foreclose on a lien or garnish a person’s wages in order to satisfy the judgment. If you are the winning party, make sure to discuss your options for collections with an attorney.
Can I sue for lawyer fees?
Depending on the case, you may be able to recover the costs of hiring your attorney. Generally speaking, in Washington, each party pays their own lawyer’s bill. However, in certain cases, either by contract or as governed by statute, you may be able to recover attorneys’ fees against the opposing party if you win. It is not easy to recover attorneys’ fees, and even if they are available, a person would need to go all the way to trial and win before attorneys’ fees will be paid by the other side.
How much does it cost to retain a lawyer on average? And with Navigate?
Navigate attorneys having varying hourly rates and retainer amounts. You should inquire with your Navigate attorney, but generally speaking, you should expect to pay between $200 and $300 per hour with a Navigate attorney, and advance fee deposits are usually required in advance of at least a few thousand dollars.
Is it worth it to sue someone with no money?
It depends. Sometimes, even if someone has no money, they are considered “judgment proof” and there is no real way to recover against someone with no money. However, just because someone has no money does not mean they do not have assets or insurance that may cover the damages to you. If you think that the opposing party may be judgment proof, talk to your attorney to determine if there are other ways to recover.
What happens when clients lie to their lawyers?
It is virtually impossible for an attorney to represent a client that lies to their attorney. It is extremely important for a client to be honest with their attorney. If you are embarrassed about something, it is better to tell your attorney, than to lie or hide something for your attorney. Your attorney needs to know all of the facts so he or she can prepare your case. Never lie to your attorney.
What are the main types of evidence I can use in court to win a case?
In most cases, the best evidence you have is (1) written evidence that demonstrates your side of the story; or (2) witnesses that can confirm your side of the story. If you do not have written evidence or witnesses that will confirm your case, you likely will not succeed in court. Make sure to have documents and witnesses to back up your case.
Our Civil Litigation Attorneys
Trevor J. Cartales
Business Law | Alcohol Law | Cannabis Law | Estate Planning | Consumer Protection | Civil Litigation | Land Use Law | Entertainment Law
Brian J. Grambow
Civil Litigation | Guardianship | Probate | Real Estate Law
Colin F. McHugh
Employment Law | Personal Injury law | Business Law | Civil Litigation | Construction Law