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Lawsuits: Fiction v. Reality (1/2)

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Did you ever notice how in television legal drama almost every court case wraps up neatly during an episode? Unfortunately, in real life, the process doesn’t move this quickly and court cases are usually quite lengthy. (That’s just one of the reasons why trials are so expensive.)

A civil lawsuit can be brought over a breached contract, a residential eviction after a broken lease, injuries sustained in a car accident, or countless other harms or disputes. Even an uncontested divorce is still a civil lawsuit. Even if you and your spouse agree to a divorce settlement, you can’t obtain a judgment of divorce until one of you files a complaint to begin the legal process.

A civil case is usually instigated by a private party — a person or business that has allegedly suffered some kind of damage, harm, or injury. In contrast, a criminal case is brought by a prosecutor or other attorney representing the local government. Unlike a criminal case, which is looking to punish the wrongdoer for a crime, a civil case is meant to compensate the alleged victim or right the alleged wrong.

Each state, as well as the federal government, has its own rules and procedures for a civil lawsuit and may have different names for each of its proceedings. Your legal counsel can explain the procedures. Depending on the type of claim you have (or a claim that might be filed against you) the case may be in state or federal court. A divorce, which is also a civil case, usually will have specific rules applicable specifically to family law cases.

Lawsuits generally must be filed within certain deadlines, called the statute of limitations. The exact period varies depending on the type of case and the state.