Civil Litigation - FAQs

1. What is civil law?
2. What is a civil lawsuit?
3. Differences between civil law and criminal law


1. What is civil law?

Civil law (also known as municipal law) relates to the relationships of contract and exchange between private parties (individuals, businesses or individuals and businesses), such as marriage, divorce, buying and selling property, contracts and warranties, etc. Civil law encompasses all law that is not criminal law and is divided into two branches: contract law and tort law. Rather than being tried in a criminal court and a criminal conviction and sentence being imposed, civil law cases are litigated in civil courts as lawsuits and the end result is normally financial compensation.


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2. What is a civil lawsuit?

A civil lawsuit is a private suit between two or more entities (can involve individual persons, business or government entities) that generally involve infringement upon the rights and protections of individuals. Civil offenses (torts or breaches of contract) can vary greatly and include offenses ranging from a breach of contract or warranty, the unlawful taking of property, invasions of privacy, negligence, intentional and unintentional infliction of physical injury or emotional distress (personal injury) to severe rights violations such as gross negligence, medical malpractice and wrongful death.


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3. Differences between civil law and criminal law

One of the major differences between civil law and criminal law is that civil lawsuits are initiated by the victim rather than the federal or state government through a prosecutor. Civil law and criminal law proceedings are also very different, and one of the main differences lies in the "burden of proof." In a criminal case, the defendant must be proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." A civil case only has to be proven on the "balance of probabilities" (i.e., it is "likely" that the defendant is guilty).


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