Civil litigation is a legal process that allows Pennsylvania residents to settle disputes in a court of law, but few of these disputes actually make it to court. This is because the vast majority of civil litigants choose to strike a deal at the negotiating table to avoid spending money on a court battle that could drag on for months or even years.
When cases are argued before a jury, the plaintiff does not face the same challenge that a criminal prosecutor would. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent, and their guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The court does not assume that either party in a civil dispute is telling the truth; cases are decided based on who has the most evidence.
Most civil lawsuits filed over car crashes or slip-and-fall accidents are based on the tort of negligence. In order to prevail in a negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff must convince the jury that:
• The defendant owed them a duty of care. A duty of care is the responsibility to do everything reasonably possible to prevent injury to others.
• The defendant failed to meet their duty of care. This could be established in a slip-and-fall case by showing that the defendant knew or should have known about a dangerous situation and failed to take appropriate action.
• They suffered injury, loss or damage as a direct consequence of the defendant’s negligent behavior.
Causation is often a key issue in civil litigation. A doctor in a medical malpractice case might claim that their error had very little impact because the defendant was already sick when the mistake was made, and a negligent driver may argue that damages should be reduced because the plaintiff was partially responsible for the crash. When juries are tasked with resolving these issues, they apportion blame and then award damages accordingly.
A complex process
Choosing to file a lawsuit is usually the first step in a long process. Legal paperwork must be filed, all of the parties involved have to be notified, evidence will be needed, and even minor mistakes can cause lengthy delays. This is why it is typically best to settle civil disputes whenever possible.