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Civil Law

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In a civil case, one private party (the “plaintiff”) files a lawsuit seeking compensation for losses caused by another private party (the “defendant”). While a defendant in a criminal trial is found “guilty” or “not guilty,” a defendant in a civil case is found “liable” or “not liable” for damages. A defendant found liable may be required to reimburse the plaintiff for losses resulting from the defendant’s behavior. In a civil case, both the plaintiff and the defendant may appeal the verdict to a higher court.                    

How a Civil Case Moves through Superior Court

How a Civil Case Moves through Circuit Court

A truck driver injured during a collision with a drunk driver hires a lawyer and brings a lawsuit in Superior Court asking for $150,000 in “damages” to cover lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering. The truck driver requests a jury trial and claims the accident was the fault of the driver who was under the influence of alcohol. 

Twelve citizens are chosen as jurors to listen to lawyers from both sides present evidence. After all the evidence is presented, the lawyers on each side of the case make their “closing arguments.” The jury is given instructions by the judge about the rules for evaluating the evidence they have heard; the jury then deliberates in private until they reach a unanimous decision. They agree to award the truck driver $75,000. 

The driver appeals the case to the Supreme Court and says the judge made legal errors during the trial and the verdict was too high. The Supreme Court justices decide that the judge did make a legal mistake in one of the jury instructions. They “remand” the case back to the Superior Court for another trial.

A homeowner who paid a local contractor $3,000 to fix a leaky roof files a small claims complaint in District Division after water damaged his bedroom carpet and furniture. The roofer is notified by mail that the complaint has been filed. Since he contests the claim, a court hearing date is set.

When they arrive at court, both sides have an opportunity to meet with a mediator, assigned by the court clerk at no charge, to try to resolve their dispute before they go into the courtroom. They meet, but cannot agree on a resolution, so a hearing is held immediately before a judge. Neither party is required to have a lawyer.

The judge hears the evidence and the roofer claims that his guarantee did not cover hurricane damage, which he says resulted in the leak. The judge decides the roofer owes the homeowner $1,000.

The roofer appeals to the Supreme Court. The justices uphold the District Division judge’s ruling.