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Civil Litigation

Written by Kathleen Gagne
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Civil litigation differs from criminal litigation in that any person, group, or company may initiate a lawsuit against another person, company, or entity if the plaintiff believes he or she has suffered damages as a result of the negligence or deliberate actions of others. A civil lawsuit may also be used to stop someone else from doing something such as polluting water or disposing of toxic waste inappropriately. Filing for divorce is also a form of civil litigation.

Civil Litigation Versus Criminal Litigation

In the case of criminal litigation, it is the state or other government entity bringing charges on behalf of an injured party, a group, or on behalf of the population at large. Charging a defendant with murder, for example, is done on behalf of the victim and the community. In some cases, when criminal litigation results in a not-guilty verdict, a civil lawsuit can still be initiated.

Most civil suits do not get to trial. Depending on the location and type of the lawsuit, a trial may be relatively informal, or it may include a judge and a jury. In the case of the most common type of lawsuit, one based on an automobile accident, there can be both a civil lawsuit and a criminal trial, based on the perceived level of responsibility of one of the drivers. Both cases may result in a verdict against the driver suspected of causing the accident, but the type of "punishment" will be different.

The Cost of Civil Litigation

Most attorneys take personal injury cases on a contingency basis, but there are other reasons for civil lawsuits, and, in those cases, contingency arrangements are rare. The vast majority of civil cases, around 90 percent, are settled before getting to the very expensive trial stage. In many cases, civil suits are brought as a form of vindication for the injured party. Gaining a favorable decision is a way of getting back some of what was lost.


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