There are two basic types of law — criminal and civil. Criminal law deals with wrongs against society as a whole, while civil law deals with wrongs against a person or his property. A civil lawsuit mainly deals with wrongdoings that are not criminal in nature. Some of the more common issues addressed include personal injury, negligence, family disputes, and small claims lawsuits.
Cases of personal injury, such as those that result from an automobile accident, may result in a civil lawsuit. Other suits may arise from allegations of negligence, if a person has a responsibility to maintain their property so that others are not hurt on it. Family law cases — such as divorces, adoptions, and child custody matters — also fall under the scope of civil law. Small claims cases, or those in which a nominal sum of money is in dispute, are also civil suits. Other areas of civil law include discrimination cases, employment law, and contract disputes.
There may be a specific court designed to hear only certain types of civil cases. One of the most common is a family court that handles only personal cases dealing with issues related to the family. Small claims courts also generally hear only those cases that fall into that category of civil lawsuit.
In the United States, proceedings in a civil case begin when a person files a complaint against another individual for a wrongdoing. The person who files this lawsuit is known as the plaintiff. He normally consults with an attorney before doing this to make sure his case is valid. Notice of the complaint is then given to the party being sued, who is commonly known as the defendant.
In a court of law, the plaintiff has the burden of proving his case against the defendant. In a civil lawsuit, the evidence must show a preponderance of the evidence. This means it is more likely than not that a wrongdoing occurred. The attorney for the plaintiff typically presents his client's case first. After doing so, the defendant's lawyer offers his client's side of the story, and presents any evidence that may contradict the plaintiff's claim.
The outcome of a civil lawsuit is normally determined by a judge. If either the defendant or the plaintiff requests one, a jury trial may be granted. In such cases, there are normally between six and 12 jurors who deliberate privately in order to reach a verdict. Typically, the decision of the jury members must be unanimous.
Those who are found guilty of wrongdoing in a civil court do not usually face imprisonment. Monetary damages are most often awarded to plaintiffs who win these cases. Other times, a judge may order action, such as the completion of a contract, rather than an actual payment.
Civil laws can provide rules for citizens to follow in order to maintain a peaceful society. They may also protect individuals who have suffered injuries because of another person's negligence. Those who can not settle disputes peacefully may find it necessary to proceed with a civil lawsuit, in order to receive restitution.