Have you found yourself in the unfortunate position of wanting to sue another person, business, or entity in order to recover financial damages? If so, it may be in your best interest to file a civil lawsuit against the other party in order to have a court judgment ruling in your favor. This article shares important information explaining more about what a civil lawsuit is and when you should file a civil lawsuit.
In general terms, a civil lawsuit is the court-based process through which Person A can seek to hold Person B liable for some type of harm or wrongful act. Usually, if Person A is successful, he or she will usually be awarded compensation for the harm that resulted from Person B’s action or inaction. (Note: civil lawsuits can also be brought by and against businesses and other entities).
So, a civil lawsuit can be brought over a contract dispute, a residential eviction after a broken lease, injuries sustained in a car accident, or countless other harms or disputes.
Unlike a criminal case, which is looking to punish the wrongdoer for a crime, a civil case is meant to compensate the person who was harmed (usually in the form of monetary “damages” paid from the defendant to the plaintiff).
Civil Cases Versus Criminal Cases
Civil court differs from criminal court in a number of key ways.
- Civil Suits Can Be Brought By Anyone. A civil case is usually instigated by a private party—a person or business who has allegedly suffered some kind of harm or damage. In contrast, a criminal case is brought by a prosecutor or other attorney representing the local government.
- The Burden of Proof is “Lighter” in a Civil Case. The “burden of proof” in a civil case—what must be shown in order for the defendant to be held liable for what the plaintiff is alleging—is “by a preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it is more likely than not that what the plaintiff is alleging is what actually happened. In a criminal case, the government must show the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a much tougher standard to meet.
- The Loser in a Civil Case Typically Pays in Dollars Rather Than in Time Behind Bars. What’s at stake in a civil lawsuit can usually be measured in money. The plaintiff is asking the court to make a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor, and if such a judgment is made it is usually accompanied by a court order entitling the plaintiff to a certain amount of money (called a damages award) to be paid by the defendant. Compare that to a criminal case, where if the defendant is convicted of a crime, he or she is usually facing the prospect of jail time, probation, the payment of a fine, compelled performance of community service, or some combination of these.
Now that you understand more about what a civil litigation is, how do you know if you should file a civil lawsuit? NOLO shares some great guidelines below about how o determine if you have a good case.
Do I Have a Good Case?
To figure out whether you have a good case, it helps to know that lawyers break each type of lawsuit (“cause of action” in attorney-speak) into a short list of legally required elements. It follows that as long as you know what the elements are for your type of lawsuit, it’s usually fairly easy to determine whether you have a good case. For example, a lawsuit against a contractor for doing substandard construction would be for breach of contract (because the contractor agreed either orally or in writing to do the job properly). The legal elements for this type of lawsuit are as follows:
Contract formation. You must show that you have a legally binding contract with the other party. If you have a written agreement, this element is especially easy to prove. Without a written contract, you will have to show that you had an enforceable oral (spoken) contract, or that an enforceable contract can be implied from the circumstances of your situation.
Performance. You must prove that you did what was required of you under the terms of the contract. Assuming you have made agreed-on payments and otherwise cooperated, you should have no problem with this element.
Breach. You must show that the party you plan to sue failed to meet his or her contractual obligations (“breach of contract” in legalese). This is usually the heart of the case — you’ll need to prove that the contractor failed to do agreed-on work or did work of unacceptably poor quality.
Damages. You must show that you suffered an economic loss as a result of the other party’s breach of contract. Assuming the work must be redone or finished, this element should also be relatively straightforward to prove.
Is There an Alternative?
Even if you decide you have a good case, don’t rush down to the courthouse to file a lawsuit. First, think about ways to settle your dispute out of court. You can talk directly with your opponent and try to negotiate a mutually beneficial compromise. Or you can hire a mediator — a neutral third person who will help you and your opponent evaluate your goals and options in order to find a solution that works for everyone. Also, and especially if your contract provides for it, you may be able to submit your dispute to binding arbitration.
Can I Collect if I Win?
Your answer to the third question is incredibly important. There is no point in getting a court judgment against a deadbeat. While most reputable businesses and individuals will pay you what they owe, if they don’t have it, they can’t pay you. If your opponent tries to stiff you, you may be in for a struggle. Unfortunately, the court won’t collect your money for you or even provide much help; it will be up to you to identify the assets you can grab.
Normally, if an individual is working or owns valuable property — such as land or investments — collection is not too difficult. You can instruct your local law enforcement agency (usually the sheriff, marshal or constable) to garnish that person’s wages or attach his or her non-exempt property.
For a successful business, especially one that receives cash directly from customers, you can authorize your local sheriff or marshal to collect your judgment right out of the cash register. And in many states, if you are suing a contractor or other businessperson with a state license, you can apply to have the license suspended until the judgment is paid.
However, if you can’t identify any collection source — for example, if you’re dealing with an unlicensed contractor of highly doubtful solvency — think twice before suing. A judgment will be of no value to you if the business or individual is insolvent, goes bankrupt, or disappears.
Small claims are cases filed in the county justice of the peace courts (also referred to simply as “justice courts”) in Texas. Justice courts provide a more informal setting than the district or county courts, so parties will often represent themselves rather than hiring an attorney. The limit to the amount that a person can sue for in small claims cases is $20,000. Justice courts can also settle landlord/tenant disputes such as evictions and repairs.
Before filing a lawsuit in justice court, it is always recommended you attempt to resolve your problems with the other party. It is always better to come to a solution that both parties can agree to than to have to file suit. Professional mediators at a dispute resolution center might be able to help you come to an agreement. If you do decide to file a lawsuit in justice court, information on how to do so can be found in this guide.
Civil Litigation Attorney in Houston Area
Attorney Fuller is a seasoned attorney with nearly three decades of experience representing a wide range of clients. This includes individuals who have suffered an injury due to another’s actions, individuals facing criminal charges, those who have been arrested for DWI, individuals who have found themselves in a civil litigation dispute, and those looking for legal guidance in business
After filling out a client intake form, Attorney Lanease D. Fuller will take appropriate action in your case to help you get the results you are looking for. This includes but not limited to gathering evidence, going to trial, and earning a settlement that is appropriate for your specific situation. Reach out to us today to take the first step towards settling your case.
LANEASE D. FULLER LAW
4615 S. Frwy St. 820
Houston, TX 77051
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