Civil litigation law is a term that is sometimes used to describe civil procedure, which is the set of procedural rules that govern legal disputes between parties outside criminal law matters. The process of civil litigation that is outlined through these procedures is much more than just the trial, which is what is commonly considered representative of the entire process. Civil litigation begins when one party files a claim; it continues through the discovery process whereby each party may obtain relevant evidence through the other party in order to build his or her case; it finally culminates with the trial. Civil litigation law governs this entire process.
Civil litigation occurs whenever two parties want to resolve a dispute, usually for monetary damages, through the court system. The civil litigation process begins with one party, called the plaintiff, filing a complaint against another party, who is called the defendant. The complaint must be filed in the proper jurisdiction according to that region’s civil litigation law, which means that the court in which the complaint was filed must be allowed to hear the case. The defendant must then file his or her response to the claims in the complaint, called the “answer.”
At this point in the civil litigation, the parties are to begin the discovery process. The discovery process involves requesting information regarding potential witnesses, as well as gaining access to the other party’s documents to search for relevant evidence. Civil litigation law dictates what is allowed in conducting discovery as certain things are protected and may only be searched in the event that the requesting party will suffer “substantial hardship” if they are not allowed access to the evidence. During the discovery process, there may be several pre-trial hearings to determine what will and will not be admissible at trial, among other evidentiary issues. The discovery process is also where a party builds his or her case and determines his or her strategy at trial.
Once discovery is completed, the trial portion of civil litigation is set to begin. The trial starts off with opening statements by the parties and continues through the presentations of evidence and witnesses. Next are any final motions by the parties, and the whole civil litigation process comes to a head with the closing arguments and the decision, which is issued by the judge and jury. Contrary to popular belief, civil litigation law ensures that there are generally no surprises at trial as the discovery process allows each party an open view of the evidence available to the other side.