Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Civil Court Cases

Experiencing a civil dispute might feel like a complicated journey. But civil cases boil down to people settling and sorting out their disagreements. Whether it is a breach of contract or a family issue that needs legal attention, these cases are about finding a fair solution.

This article offers a comprehensive overview of civil court cases. It looks at the different types of civil cases and the common stages you may experience. This page also has various articles that will give you a deeper understanding of civil law.

What Is a Civil Case?

A civil case, sometimes called a civil suit, is a legal dispute between one or more parties where one party, the plaintiff, sues another, the defendant. The plaintiff seeks legal remedy for an injury or harm from the defendant. Compared with criminal cases involving offenses against the state, civil cases involve disputes against individuals, organizations, or corporations. In civil cases, plaintiffs often seek monetary compensation, specific performance, or injunction.

Types of Cases in Civil Court

Civil courts handle a wide variety of cases. The following are some of the common types of civil cases:

  • Torts. Torts are harmful acts that cause an injury to another: their person, property, or reputation. These cases fall under the personal injury claims and may entitle the plaintiff to compensation. Examples of tort claims include battery, defamation, fraud, negligence, personal injury, and medical malpractice.
  • Family law cases. Family law cases involve domestic matters. Some common issues handled in this type of case are divorce, spousal support, child support, and child custody.
  • Breach of contract disputes. Breach of contract happens when one party to a contract fails to perform a term of a contract. It also happens when one person fails to fulfill their obligation in an agreement. Some examples of breach of contract include failure to deliver goods promised, non-completion of a job, or failure to pay on an agreed time.
  • Equitable claims. An equitable claim is when someone asks the court to order another person to do something or refrain from doing something. Here, the person asks for a particular action or order from the court. Some examples of equitable claims are restraining order, injunction, or equitable estoppel.
  • Landlord/tenant issues. These issues arise between landlords and tenants. Some examples of landlord/tenant matters are issues arising from evictions, lease violations, or repairs and maintenance.
  • Small claims cases. These are legal disputes that involve a relatively small amount of money. Each state has a dollar limit for small claims. For instance, in Alaska, the dollar limit is $10,000. Meanwhile, in Arizona, it is $3,500.

Overview of the Stages of a Civil Case

There are several stages to a typical civil case. The following is an overview of them.

Filing Initial Court Documents

The first step is to file the initial court papers called "pleadings." The first document usually filed to start a civil case is the complaint, sometimes called the petition. The civil case begins once a plaintiff files a complaint against the defendant and pays the appropriate filing fees.

The complaint outlines the plaintiff's case against the defendant. It states the plaintiff's legal claims and the facts that give rise to those claims. The complaint also states the relief or remedy that the plaintiff seeks from the court. Often, it is either an award for money damages or the performance of a contract.


Once the parties file the initial papers and the defendant answers the complaint, there is a period for discovery. The parties can get relevant facts and documents from the other side at this stage.

There are three primary forms of discovery:

  1. Written discovery
  2. Production of documents
  3. Depositions

Written discovery includes interrogatories and requests for admission. Interrogatories are questions requiring the other side to present their version of the facts related to the case. But, a request for admission asks the other party to admit or deny specific facts. Often, there are limits to the number of interrogatories and requests for admissions each side can present to the other side.

Production of documents is a step in which any party gets access to most documents relevant to the case. Nowadays, electronic document discovery or e-discovery has become more popular. Courts often give parties access to digital records, computer files, email exchanges, or cloud-based documents.

Depositions are out-of-court testimony taken under oath, where a person answers questions from an attorney. It is often taken before a jury trial and happens in an out-of-court setting such as the attorney's office or conference room. Here, the attorney asks questions, and the person getting questioned (the deponent) responds. A court reporter or a tape recorder documents the oral testimony of the deponent.

Filing Pretrial Motions

Before the civil trial starts, each side can file pretrial motions, which ask the judge to rule on a particular matter. Some examples of pretrial motions in civil cases are:

  • Motion for summary judgment
  • Motion to dismiss
  • Motion for judgment on the pleadings
  • Motion to exclude evidence
  • Motion for change of venue
  • Motion to sever
  • Motion for protective order

These motions are tools that parties may use to limit the scope of the trial, clarify issues, or protect their rights. In some cases, pretrial motions can resolve the case before it proceeds to a full trial. This is the case in the motion for summary judgment. A party files the motion, arguing that no disputed material facts need a trial.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) plays an essential role in civil cases. It provides a different way of solving disputes than conventional courtroom litigation. Here, lawyers try to settle and negotiate with a neutral third party who serves as the arbitrator or mediator.

ADR comes in various forms. This includes arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and negotiation. Each ADR form helps parties find a mutual solution to their case. It is a less formal, more flexible, and often cost-effective manner of settling civil lawsuits. Compared with traditional civil litigation, where a judge provides a court order, a mediator or an arbitrator does not issue a binding order without the parties' agreement during ADR. Instead, they help the parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.

Hiring an Attorney

There are several rules and procedures for handling civil court cases. For this reason, we recommend consulting a civil law attorney. They can help you understand the laws and provide legal advice tailored to your case. They also offer a wide variety of legal services related to civil law. For instance, they can help you with family law cases, breach of contract, and torts.

Learn About Civil Court Cases

Civil Court Cases Articles

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Was this helpful?

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options