Under civil law, the plaintiff or the suffering party files a
claim for monetary damages against their offender or a third party,
known as the defendant, for causing physical or emotional injuries.
A civil lawsuit does not aim at finding whether the defendant
is guilty of the crime; rather, it seeks to understand whether
the defendant is, in any way, responsible for the injuries suffered
by the victim.
If the allegations prove correct, the defendant must pay the
damages to the plaintiff. Civil lawsuits primarily deal with wrongdoings
not criminal in nature, such as personal injury, negligence, wrongful
termination, breach of contract, premises liability, fraud, intellectual
property rights, discrimination, unfair labor practices, among
The standard of proof in civil lawsuits requires the plaintiff
to prove the claim against the defendant under the "preponderance
of evidence" standard. If the respondent or defendant files
a counterclaim, the burden of proof shifts to them. The facts
presented must be convincing enough to marginalize the counterarguments.
A victim is free to file civil lawsuits against the allegedly
guilty parties, irrespective of the outcome of any criminal prosecution.
Filing Civil Lawsuits
Before filing any complaint or claim in the court, the victim
first meets their attorney and consults with them on their complaint.
This is the "pre-filing" stage and the attorney learns
from the complainant what exactly happened and then determines
whether the claim is worth pursuing under the laws of the state.
Following the pre-filing stage comes the pleading stage, when
the complainant or plaintiff files a complaint against the defendant
with a court. The court clerk stamps the court seal on the summons,
which, along with a copy of the complaint, are then served upon
the defendant. The defendant learns the nature of the claims and
then files an answer in their defense along with any counterclaims
against the plaintiff.
If the defendant seeks to challenge the motion, he files for
a motion to strike or demurrer. It is necessary that the motion
filed by defendant is heard before the civil action can proceed.
In such a case, the court grants a leave to the plaintiff to amend
the complaint, following which, the complainant files an amended
complaint and the entire process begins all over again.
Then both parties get the opportunity to review the evidence
and if they so desire, they might attempt to settle the case then
and there. Some states require compulsory, though non-binding
mediation, wherein an independent panel makes a settlement recommendation
after a thorough review of the pleadings and evidence. The case
goes to the trial stage if no settlement is reached.
The jury (or sometimes a judge) will hear both sides and then
make a factual decision.
Differences Between Civil and Criminal Lawsuits:
- Civil lawsuits are filed by private parties, whereas criminal
suits are filed by government agencies such as a district attorney.
- Outcome in case of civil suits is usually less severe than
that in criminal cases in terms of punishing individuals.
- Civil lawsuits are subject to the preponderance of evidence
standard, wherein initially, the plaintiff carries the burden
of proof and is required to present substantial evidence to
substantiate his claim, whereas in criminal lawsuits, the government
must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because
unless proven guilty, the defendant is considered innocent.
- Civil lawsuits require 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a decision,
whereas criminal lawsuits require all 12 jurors to reach a unanimous