Understanding Civil Cases And How They Work

18 May 2016
 Categories: Law, Articles

If you find yourself involved in a civil law case, such as providing testimony in a case with your organization or corporation, you may be surprised to learn that civil law differs from criminal law in several ways. Understanding the differences will give you a better understanding of what to expect as the case moves forward.

What is a civil case?

A civil case commonly refers to a court case where people or companies sue each other in court for money for things like broken contracts, property damage and injuries. But there are other types of civil cases, such as Family Law, Landlord and Tenant Disputes, Guardianship, Probate, Small Claims, Juvenile Cases or Harassment. In the case of corporate law, this may include copyright or trademark violations, contract violations or the failure to provide services as promised.

Do you need a lawyer for a civil case?

While you can hire a lawyer for most civil cases (small claims do not allow either party to have a lawyer) the state is under no obligation to provide one for you. If your organization does not hire an attorney you must represent yourself in court. This may put you at a disadvantage because a corporate lawyer is experienced in drafting and assessing copyright and intellectual rights, securities, contract negotiations and other areas of business law. While he may spend the majority of his time assisting the business with day to day legal issues, he is also invaluable to the company during a civil trial. Corporations often employ a corporate lawyer to attend to legal cases that may arise.

Do you have a jury for civil cases?

It depends on the nature of the case. Some civil cases are decided by a jury, while others are decided by the judge or a commissioner. If there is a jury, all the jurors do not need to agree on the verdict. Agreement by 3/4 of the jurors is required to make a verdict in a civil case.

What evidence do you need to present in a civil case?

You need to present as much evidence as you can to support your case; however, you do not need to prove your case "beyond a reasonable doubt" like you do in a criminal case. Most civil cases require either a "preponderance of evidence" or "clear and convincing evidence". Both mean that your evidence must be more likely to be believed than the opposing party's evidence. The amount of evidence is not the determining factor. How likely it is to be believed is more important. For example, in proving copyright ownership, an original copy of the disputed work may be more valuable to the case than several copies downloaded from the Internet. Likewise, dated and witnessed documents are likely to be seen as more believable than a handwritten note from the opposing party.

Can you go to jail if you lose a civil case? Typically the consequences of losing a civil case are to pay a financial amount to the opposing party or pay a fine. For example, if your organization is sued for a copyright violation, your organization or corporation may pay a stiff penalty, but no one will be sentenced to jail time for the offense.

Gathering and preparing the necessary evidence to convince the judge is important. Talk to your lawyer about the type of evidence you need to provide. Typically, evidence includes receipts, proof of work done, and other supporting documents. Getting documents notarized or obtaining reliable witness accounts go a long way to showing your evidence is clear and convincing. For more information, work with an experienced lawyer from a firm like Carter & West Law