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Civil Court Basics

Civil court is a government institution that settles disputes between two or more entities, typically in the same courthouse that also tries criminal cases. Sometimes, the same action (such as assault) will be tried both in civil and criminal court. Civil court cases may involve any combination of private citizens, businesses, government institutions, or other parties. Typically, the function of a civil court is to determine liability of one party for the injuries, which do not necessarily need to be of a physical nature, that are suffered by another party. FindLaw's Civil Court Basics section includes articles about class action lawsuits, the role of courts in government, a glossary of terms used in courts, and other related information and resources.

Class Actions and Other Civil Suits

A class action lawsuit is a type of lawsuit in which several people who have the suffered the same or similar injuries from a product or action sue the same defendant as a group. Other types of actions similar to class action lawsuits are "multi-district litigation" and "mass tort litigation." Class action lawsuits are common when multiple people are injured by the same defective product, such as a motor vehicle, a medical device, or a pharmaceutical drug, or when multiple people suffer harm due to corporate misconduct, employment practices, or securities fraud.

A class action lawsuit is beneficial because it consolidates most aspects of litigation, including the attorney(s), the defendant(s), the evidence, and the witnesses. In addition, if there are a large number of people that have been affected by a particular product or action, it becomes impractical to file individual lawsuits. A couple of examples when a class action lawsuit makes sense are when a group of employees were subjected to religious discrimination by the same employer or when a defect in a product has caused injuries to a number of people.

A class action lawsuit is procedurally different from a typical civil court case, so it's important to contact a lawyer that is experienced in class action lawsuits. For example, there is a notice requirement in which potential class members must be notified of the class action lawsuit and have the option to opt in or out of the lawsuit. Class action lawsuits also take up a lot of time to build the case and contact class members.

Any individual who fits the court's definition of a class member is bound by the court decision. This is true whether the individual went to court or otherwise participated in the case. In the event that the parties settle, the judge must approve the settlement in order to make sure that it's fair to all of the parties. Any money judgment that is awarded will usually follow a plan of distribution, in which it is distributed to each member of the class.

Hiring an Attorney

Civil court cases can be complex. They not only require knowledge of the law but also knowledge of court rules and procedures. If you are interested in filing a lawsuit against someone, or a lawsuit has been filed against you, you may want to contact an experienced litigation attorney in your area.

Learn About Civil Court Basics