What is a Civil Suit?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A civil suit is a type of lawsuit in which one party accuses another of damage. These differ from criminal suits, in which the state or regional body prosecutes a defendant because laws have been broken. It is possible for both criminal and civil charges to be filed for the same incident; however, the charges are usually tried by different courts and do not affect one another.

A company could bring suit against an employee breaking a confidentiality agreement.
A company could bring suit against an employee breaking a confidentiality agreement.

Unlike criminal trials, in which a convicted defendant may be sentenced to imprisonment, successful civil suits usually require the at-fault party to pay money, also called damages, to the other party. If money is not available, property or other remedies may be substituted. In cases where the civil suit is about preventing or allowing certain actions, such as restraining orders, the role of the court is to choose to issue orders rather than award damages.

There are many types of civil suits that can be brought to court.
There are many types of civil suits that can be brought to court.

There are many different types of civil suit that can be filed. Contract disputes, personal injury claims, product liability, custody and alimony issues, discrimination, and property disputes are all common types of civil issues. Some courts may divide cases by the amount of money sought in the lawsuit; cases where the value is relatively low are often sent to small claims court.

A civil suit is a type of law suit in which one party accuses another of damages.
A civil suit is a type of law suit in which one party accuses another of damages.

Civil suits are generally considered to be about individual rights and grievances. In a criminal case, a victim may ask a local or state official to file criminal charges, but it is at the discretion of the official whether to do so. Civil suits allow individuals to bring charges against one another without the permission and action of a district attorney or state prosecutor.

There are often different standards employed when judging a civil suit as opposed to a criminal one.
There are often different standards employed when judging a civil suit as opposed to a criminal one.

It is important to remember that while these cases are brought by one party against another, the parties are not necessarily individuals. A civil suit can be brought by an individual against a company or corporation; for instance, an individual can pursue a civil suit against a hospital for malpractice. An employee breaching a confidentiality agreement may be grounds for a company to file a civil suit against the individual. Additionally, the parties may be two companies, organizations, or corporations.

There are frequently different standards employed when judging a civil suit as opposed to a criminal one. Most legal systems that allow civil proceedings provide judgment based on the likeliest probability drawn from the evidence. Since the burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases, it is not uncommon for some defendants to be acquitted in criminal court but found liable for damages in civil court.

A surgeon who is negligent during surgery may face civil negligence charges.
A surgeon who is negligent during surgery may face civil negligence charges.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Does one need a lawyer to file a civil suit in Idaho?


Statistically, more civil cases are filed by companies and corporations against individuals than civil suits involving one person versus another person or one person versus a company. Courts are swamped with civil cases involving companies and corporations filing civil suits against people, trying to collect on unpaid bills.

The tort reform that has been discussed sounds like a good fix to some civil suits that we may think sound ridiculous, but isn't that the point of the system in the first place - to let a jury of our peers decide what is ridiculous or not? As opposed to letting one all powerful, all knowing person make decisions?

Many of the cases used to support tort reform never really happened or are highly exaggerated. For example, look up pictures of the McDonald's hot coffee case, read the facts and then judge for yourself.

Besides, if America adopts the English version of torts, the only people who will have access to our courts, will be those with money to pay attorneys. That means that if you as an individual are harmed and need the court's help to straighten it out, you won't be able to get the court's help because of the risk in paying too much money.

Courts are the last refuge in our society where people's rights - poor or rich - are decided based on truth and law, not on the amount of money, power or influence you have.


Can a sibling sue over their belongings and money that administrator took which didn't belong to the decedent? They admitted to taking the items and refused to give the items back before dad died.


I invested some money with a company that turned out to be a fraud. The contract stated that if I'm not satisfied, they would refund the money. Well, it's been four years and the woman hasn't refund any money. She keeps on telling me she will. Could this be a lawsuit or is there nothing I can do?


I am a bar owner. A person I knew when I was growing up came into my bar sat down beside me and admitted to robbing several different establishments in the very small town of 125 people that I lived in. I told him I did not want him in my place and to leave. He said that he hoped I died a worse death than my father who had recently passed away after having three strokes in front of me and dying in a rest home from cancer a year later and not knowing me or being able to speak for most of the time he had left.

I became very angry and went to throw him out. He didn't seem to want to leave so I hit him one time,knocking him down, and threw him out. I went to go back in my place when a friend saw him pull out a loaded 9mm and was going to shoot me in the back. Three people tried to take the weapon from him but he would not let go. He got the hell knocked out of him and was restrained until the police arrived after I had called them.

Eight months later, I was thrown in jail for battery, fined $3,500 and got a week in jail and two years' probation. Now he is filing a civil suit against me, my bar and the three other people who saved my life.

If I win the civil suit, can I file a claim against him for my legal fees?


I have an identity theft issue with someone. I know who it is and I want to press charges, but the police department is only allowing me to file reports.

There is a substantial dollar amount attached to this as well, that I am being held responsible for. To do this, do I need to file a civil suit or find a lawyer to try this as a criminal case?


Is a foreclosure a civil suit?


@anon279457: In a word, yes. You (presumably) signed a contract with them for them to loan you a certain amount of money with you making payments for a certain amount of time, until you have paid off what you owe. At the very least, they can sue you for breach of contract, if you haven't been making payments.


If you owe money to a fast cash place, can they bring a civil suit against you?


How do you find out if someone has a civil suit against you?


GreenWeaver -I agree. I think that the responsibility of whether the children are obese lies with the parents.

There are plenty of kids and adults alike that go to fast food places like this and do not have a weight problem.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying French fries or a cheeseburger once in a while in moderation. People need to make their own choices and lawsuits like this are really a huge waste of financial resources for the company. It just makes civil suit lawyers rich.


Moldova- I just want to say that not all civil lawsuits filed are always important. For example, the Center for Science in Public Interest recently filed a civil lawsuit against Mc Donald’s for placing toys in the Happy Meals.

This organization felt that the toys were causing children to become obese because they are buying the meals so that they can get the toys.

This is really ridiculous. I think that there should be tort reform in this country like there is in England. In England if you file a lawsuit and lose you will have to pay the court costs of the other party.

In addition, there should be caps on damages so that companies will not have to deal with frivolous lawsuits like this. There are healthy options in the Happy Meals so even the argument does not hold weight. For example, you can choose the apple dippers instead of the fries and the milk instead of the soda. This law suit should have never been filed.


Suntan12 - That was a really sad case. I think that often civil suits are filed because the party wronged is still seeking justice.

The same thing happened in the OJ Simpson murder trial. OJ was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, but the friend’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Simpson and won.

They were awarded over $30 million dollars from the jury. It is easier for people to win in civil court because the burden of proof is a lot lower.


I remember the Donna J. Somerville civil suit that was brought on by her deceased husband’s children.

The civil suit was filed because Somerville was acquitted of poisoning her husband with various prescription drugs.

The prosecution failed to prove that Somerville poisoned her husband so that she could have access to their fifteen million dollar estate.

The civil law suit that was filed against her was brought on by the deceased man’s children because Somerville was the sole heir of the estate.

Although Donna Somerville was acquitted in the criminal case, the civil case had a lower standard of proof so the children might indeed get paid as a result of civil suit damages.

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