Civil litigation is a formal judicial process whereby disputes between two parties are resolved through the court system. In short, civil litigation deals with “non-criminal” matters. Each state has formal and exhaustive rules of civil procedure that govern the conduct of litigation, from the initial stages up to and including a trial and appeal.
A civil action is initiated by filing a complaint. The party who initiates the action is called a plaintiff. The party against whom the complaint is filed is called a defendant. The complaint contains a number of statements describing the nature of the dispute and the relief sought by the plaintiff. The complaint must be served on the defendant by a sheriff or other person authorized by law. Once the complaint is served, the defendant must answer the complaint within a specified period of time. Hence the defendant files an answer.
Once an answer is filed, the discovery phase of litigation begins. Discovery is governed by rules and opinions issued by judges that are designed to identify the issues in dispute between the parties before a trial is held. Typically, there are pre-trial conferences with the court to resolve any issues that may arise between the parties during the discovery phase. Once discovery is completed, a trial is scheduled.
Civil litigation is sometimes used to resolve disputes between a landlords and tenants, employers and employees, property owners and businesses, just to name a few examples.
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