Getting arrested, pressing charges, arraignments, indictments – when people think of the nation’s court system the first place the mind goes is generally to criminal prosecution. A suspect is charged with a crime, cases are presented regarding their guilt or innocence, and a jury decides whether the plaintiff sleeps at home that night or spends the next few months, years, or lifetimes behind bars.
Civil litigation, however, is not a criminal matter. While defective drugs, medical malpractice, and personal injury can certainly rise to the level of criminal conduct, the vast majority of these cases are handled as civil matters. Rather than determining guilt or innocence, a civil trial or lawsuit results in decisions about liability, rights, and ways of resolving the matter at hand.
Just as the defendant in a criminal matter is “innocent until proven guilty,” the plaintiff in a civil case holds the burden of proof. This is to say that the plaintiff has to persuade the judge and/or jury that they are right. The criminal notion of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” however, does not apply. Instead, a civil plaintiff must prove their case to levels such as a “preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing” evidence.
Civil cases resolve in the defendant being found liable or not liable for the event that caused the lawsuit. One of the main remedies in a civil lawsuit is financial compensation to the plaintiff for injuries, pain, lost wages or other types of damages. Some other civil suits can resort in the restoration of certain rights, certain property, or even prior employment.
The Pennsylvania court system has a great write-up that includes several helpful infographics on their website that break civil matters down into easily digestible pieces. The page can be found here if you you’d like to learn more.