Civil Case

Have questions about what a civil case is and how the type of court procedure works?

Read our complete guide that includes 19 frequently asked questions to learn everything you need to know about civil cases, including what the burden of proof is for civil law and much more!

What is a Civil Case?

A civil case is a legal dispute between two or more parties that typically involves private rights and remedies rather than criminal charges.

In a civil case, one party, known as the plaintiff, sues another party, known as the defendant, seeking a resolution to a legal problem or a claim for damages.

Civil cases are different from criminal cases, which involve actions considered offenses against society and are prosecuted by the government.

In a civil case, the plaintiff usually seeks some form of compensation, such as monetary damages, the return of property, or an injunction (a court order to stop or compel certain actions).

The defendant must respond to the allegations made by the plaintiff and may counterclaim against the plaintiff or assert defenses to refute the claims.

Civil cases can cover many types of legal disputes, including contract disputes, personal injury claims, property disputes, employment discrimination, family law matters such as divorce or child custody, and more.

The burden of proof in civil cases is generally lower than in criminal cases.

Instead of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the plaintiff typically needs to demonstrate their case by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that their claims are true.

Civil cases are resolved through a legal process, often involving negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, which aims to reach a settlement between the parties.

If a settlement cannot be reached, the case may proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will hear the evidence presented by both sides and decide based on the applicable laws and evidence presented.

The outcome of a civil case can result in various remedies, such as an award of damages, specific performance (enforcing a contractual obligation), or declaratory relief (a court’s determination of a party’s rights in a legal matter).

The losing party in a civil case may be required to compensate the prevailing party for their losses or comply with the court’s judgment.

Civil case legal definition

What are the Common Civil Cases?

Several common civil case types take place within the civil justice legal system, which includes the following:

  1. Personal Injury: These cases involve injuries or harm caused by another party’s negligence or intentional tort actions. Examples include car accidents, slip and fall incidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and wrongful death claims.
  2. Contract Disputes: These cases arise when there is a disagreement or breach of contract between two parties. It could involve disputes over business contracts, lease agreements, employment contracts, construction contracts, or any other legally binding agreements.
  3. Family Law: Family law cases deal with matters related to family relationships, including divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support (alimony), adoption, guardianship, and domestic violence restraining orders.
  4. Property Disputes: These cases involve conflicts over real estate or personal property rights. They can include boundary disputes, landlord-tenant disputes, eminent domain cases, foreclosure actions, or disputes over ownership or title to property.
  5. Employment Law: Employment-related civil cases can include wrongful termination, workplace discrimination or harassment claims, wage disputes, breach of employment contracts, or violations of labor laws.
  6. Intellectual Property: These cases involve disputes over the protection and ownership of intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets (courts often enforce criminal sanctions as well, which can even include prison time).
  7. Defamation: Defamation cases (tort, civil wrong) arise when false statements that harm a person’s reputation (either spoken, written, or published) are made by one party against another.
  8. Debt Collection: These cases involve attempts to recover outstanding debts individuals or businesses owe. They can include credit card debt, unpaid loans, or other forms of debt.
  9. Other Tort Claims: Tort cases involve civil wrongdoings where one party’s actions or negligence causes harm to another. This can include cases of negligence, assault, battery, defamation, fraud, or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  10. Consumer Protection: These cases involve disputes between consumers and businesses, such as deceptive trade practices, false advertising, product liability, or violations of consumer rights and regulations (can include criminal provisions).It’s important to note that the specific types of civil cases may vary based on jurisdiction and local laws. Additionally, these cases can often overlap or involve multiple legal issues.

What are the Different Stages in a Civil Case?

A civil case typically goes through several stages as it progresses through the legal system. While the exact procedures and terminology may vary depending on the jurisdiction, the following stages are commonly involved in a civil case:

  1. Pleadings: The case begins with filing a complaint or petition by the plaintiff, outlining their claims and the relief sought. The defendant then files an answer responding to the allegations and may raise affirmative defenses or file a counterclaim against the plaintiff.
  2. Discovery: This stage involves exchanging information and evidence between the parties. It includes methods such as interrogatories (written questions), depositions (oral testimony under oath), requests for the production of documents, and requests for admission.
  3. Pretrial Motions: Either party may file pretrial motions to address various issues before the trial. For example, a motion to dismiss can be filed if the defendant believes the complaint does not state a valid claim or a motion for summary judgment can be filed if one party believes there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
  4. Settlement Negotiations: Throughout the case, the parties may engage in settlement negotiations, either informally or through mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods. The case is resolved without proceeding to trial if a settlement is reached.
  5. Trial: If the case does not settle, it proceeds to trial. During the trial, each party presents its evidence, including witness testimony, documents, and expert opinions. The judge or jury then determines the facts and applies the relevant laws to reach a verdict.
  6. Judgment: After the trial, the court issues a judgment, which is a formal decision on the merits of the case. The judgment may grant relief to the prevailing party, such as monetary damages or equitable remedies, or it may dismiss the case if the plaintiff did not meet their burden of proof.
  7. Appeals: If either party is dissatisfied with the judgment, they may have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. The appeals process involves presenting legal arguments to challenge the lower court’s decision based on errors of law or procedure.
  8. Enforcement: If a judgment is obtained and not voluntarily complied with, the prevailing party may need to take further legal action to enforce the judgment. This can involve methods such as wage garnishment, property liens, or seizure of assets.

It’s important to note that civil cases can often involve settlement or resolution at any stage, and not all cases proceed to trial. The specific procedures and timelines for each stage can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the complexity of the case.

How Long do Civil Cases Last?

The duration of civil cases can vary significantly depending on various factors, including the case’s complexity, the court’s caseload, the parties involved, and the jurisdiction in which the case is being heard. Some civil cases can be resolved relatively quickly, while others may take several months or even years to conclude. Here are a few factors that can impact the duration of civil cases:

  1. Complexity of the Case: Cases involving intricate legal issues, multiple parties, extensive evidence, or technical subject matters may require more time to gather evidence, conduct discovery, and present arguments.
  2. Court’s Caseload: The court’s caseload can influence the timeline of a civil case. If the court has a heavy workload or backlog, it may take longer for a case to be scheduled for hearings, trials, or other proceedings.
  3. Settlement Attempts: The parties’ willingness to engage in settlement negotiations and the complexity of the mediation process can affect the case’s duration. If the parties actively work towards a settlement, the case may be resolved more quickly.
    However, if settlement discussions are protracted or unsuccessful, the case may proceed to trial, extending the overall timeline.
  4. Appeals: If a party decides to appeal the judgment or a significant legal issue arises, it can substantially lengthen the duration of a civil case. Appeals require additional time for briefing, argumentation, and consideration by the appellate court.
  5. Court and Jurisdiction: Different courts and jurisdictions may have varying procedures and case management practices, which can influence the duration of civil cases.
    Some jurisdictions have specific time limits or guidelines for the completion of certain stages of the case to ensure timeliness.

Given the variability of civil cases, it is challenging to provide a specific timeframe. Some civil cases can be resolved within a few months, while others can take several years.

It is advisable to consult with an attorney familiar with the case’s specific jurisdiction and circumstances to better understand the expected timeline.

What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Cases?

Civil and criminal cases are distinct types of legal proceedings that differ in their purpose, parties involved, burden of proof, and potential outcomes. Below are some key differences between civil and criminal cases:


  • Civil Case: The purpose of a civil case is to resolve disputes between private parties, such as individuals, corporations, or organizations.
    The goal is to obtain a legal remedy, typically in the form of compensation or specific performance, for harm or injury suffered due to a violation of civil laws or breach of contractual obligations.
  • Criminal Case: Criminal cases are initiated by the government to address offenses committed against society as a whole.
    The purpose is to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused and impose punishment, such as fines, probation, imprisonment, or other criminal sanctions if the accused is found guilty.

Parties Involved:

  • Civil Case: In a civil case, the parties involved are typically private individuals or entities who are directly affected by the dispute. The plaintiff is the party initiating the lawsuit, and the defendant is the party being sued.
  • Criminal Case: In a criminal case, the parties involved are the government, represented by the prosecutor or district attorney, and the accused individual or entity, known as the defendant.

Burden of Proof:

  • Civil Case: In a civil case, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff, who must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence to win. This means they must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that their claims are true.
  • Criminal Case: In a criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, represented by the government. They must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a higher standard of proof than in civil cases.

Potential Outcomes:

  • Civil Case: In civil cases, the outcome typically results in a judgment that determines liability or responsibility and provides a remedy to the injured party. Remedies can include monetary damages, specific performance, injunctions, or declaratory relief.
  • Criminal Case: In criminal cases, if the defendant is found guilty, the outcome can lead to various penalties, such as fines, probation, imprisonment, or other criminal sanctions. The focus is on punishment, rehabilitation, and protecting society.

It’s important to note that while civil cases and criminal cases are distinct, some cases may involve both civil and criminal components.

For example, in cases of assault, the victim may file a civil lawsuit for damages while the government simultaneously pursues criminal charges against the alleged perpetrator.

Often, it makes sense for the plaintiff to bring the civil suit after the criminal case ends, as evidence will come out at trial, which can make the civil suit easier to prove.

What is the Burden of Proof in Civil Cases?

In civil cases, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. The burden of proof refers to the obligation of a party to present sufficient evidence and persuade the court or jury that their claims or allegations are more likely true than not.

The standard of proof in civil cases is generally referred to as the “preponderance of the evidence.”

The preponderance of the evidence standard means that the plaintiff must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that their version of events is true. In other words, the evidence presented by the plaintiff should tip the scales slightly in their favor.

It is a lower standard of proof than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases. To meet the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, the plaintiff must present credible and persuasive evidence that supports their claims.

The evidence can include documents, witness testimony, expert opinions, photographs, or any other relevant information that helps establish the plaintiff’s case.

The plaintiff must convince the trier of fact, which can be a judge or a jury, that it is more likely true than not that the defendant is liable for the harm or injury alleged.

If the plaintiff fails to meet the burden of proof, the defendant will not need to present any evidence or defend against the claims.

The defendant may argue that the plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence to support their case, and if the court agrees, the case may be dismissed or decided in favor of the defendant.

It’s important to note that the burden of proof remains with the plaintiff throughout the entire civil case.

The defendant is not obligated to prove their innocence or disprove the plaintiff’s claims unless they assert a counterclaim or affirmative defense.

Can a Civil Case Lead to Criminal Charges?

While civil and criminal cases are distinct, there are circumstances where a civil case can lead to criminal charges. Here are a few scenarios where this can occur:

  1. Overlapping Conduct: If the conduct underlying a civil case also violates criminal laws, it can result in both civil and criminal proceedings. For example, if a person commits fraud or theft that causes harm to another party, the victim may pursue a civil lawsuit for damages.
    Law enforcement may also initiate criminal charges against the perpetrator at any point during the civil litigation process.
  2. Discovery of Criminal Conduct: During the course of a civil case, evidence may emerge that reveals criminal behavior. If such evidence comes to light, it can prompt the affected party or the court to report the matter to law enforcement, leading to potential criminal charges against the responsible party.
  3. Contempt of Court: If a party engages in willful disobedience or misconduct during civil proceedings, such as tampering with evidence, perjury, or violating court orders, the court may hold that party in contempt.
    In certain cases, contempt of court can result in criminal charges being filed against the offending party.
  4. Failure to Comply with Settlement or Judgment: If a party fails to comply with a settlement agreement or a court-ordered judgment in a civil case, the other party may seek legal recourse.
    This can involve pursuing legal avenues to enforce the settlement or judgment, which may result in the defaulting party facing potential penalties or even criminal charges for willful non-compliance.

It’s important to note that while a civil case can lead to criminal charges, the decision to pursue criminal charges ultimately rests with the prosecuting authority, such as the district attorney or prosecutor.

They will evaluate the evidence and determine whether to initiate criminal proceedings based on their own criteria and legal standards. Furthermore, it’s essential to understand that the standards of proof differ in civil and criminal cases.

In criminal cases, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas civil cases rely on the preponderance of the evidence standard.

As a result, even if a civil case is successful, it does not automatically guarantee criminal charges or vice versa.

Each case is evaluated independently based on its own merits and applicable legal standards.

Can Civil Cases Result in Jail Time?

Most civil cases will not result in jail time, as the purpose of civil litigation is to resolve disputes between private parties and provide remedies for harm or injuries suffered.

Jail time is typically associated with criminal cases where the accused is charged with violating criminal laws.

In civil cases, the remedies sought by the plaintiff are typically monetary damages, specific performance, injunctions, or other forms of equitable relief.

If the plaintiff successfully proves their case and obtains a judgment in their favor, the defendant may be ordered to pay the awarded damages or comply with the court’s orders.

However, the defendant does not face incarceration as a direct consequence of losing a civil case.

That being said, there are exceptions where civil contempt or other circumstances can potentially lead to jail time. For instance:

  1. Contempt of Court: If a party willfully disobeys a court order or engages in misconduct during the proceedings, the court may hold that party in contempt. Civil contempt can also result in incarceration to compel the contemnor (party in contempt of court) to comply with the court’s orders or purge themselves of contempt.
  2. Violation of Statutory Obligations: In certain civil cases, such as child support or alimony disputes, failure to meet legal obligations can result in being held in contempt of court, leading to potential jail time.
  3. Fraud or Misconduct: In rare circumstances, if the conduct underlying a civil case involves serious fraudulent or criminal acts, a court may refer the matter to law enforcement, potentially leading to criminal charges and subsequent jail time.

It is important to note that these exceptions are specific situations where civil proceedings intersect with potential criminal consequences. Jail time is not a direct outcome for the vast majority of civil cases.

However, if criminal behavior is suspected, it is the role of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to pursue appropriate charges and potential imprisonment.

Do Civil Cases Have a Jury?

Civil cases can have a jury, but it depends on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case. In some civil cases, the parties have the right to request a jury trial, while in others, the trial is decided solely by a judge.

The availability of a jury trial in civil cases is typically governed by the laws and rules of the specific jurisdiction where the case is being heard.

In jurisdictions that allow jury trials in civil cases, the parties may choose to have their case decided by a jury of their peers rather than a judge.

The jury is typically composed of a group of randomly selected individuals from the community who are responsible for determining the facts of the case and reaching a verdict based on the evidence presented during the trial.

During a civil jury trial, the jury listens to the arguments and evidence presented by the parties, assesses the credibility of witnesses, and applies the law as the judge instructs them to make a decision.

The jury’s verdict can determine liability, award damages, or provide other appropriate relief to the plaintiff.

It’s important to note that not all civil cases involve a jury. In some instances, the parties may agree to waive their right to a jury trial and have the case decided by a judge alone. This is known as a bench trial or a trial by a judge.

Bench trials are common in certain types of civil cases, particularly those involving complex legal issues or where the parties prefer to have a judge with specialized knowledge or expertise decide the case.

The availability of a jury trial, the process of jury selection, and other related procedures can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific rules and laws governing civil trials in that jurisdiction.

Do Civil Cases Show Up On Background Checks?

Civil cases can potentially show up on background checks, but it depends on the specific type of background check being conducted and the information sources consulted. Here are a few factors to consider:

  1. Public Record Availability: Civil cases are typically matters of public record, which means that the court proceedings and related documents are accessible to the public.
    Some background check providers may search public records databases or court records to gather information, including civil cases.
  2. Scope of Background Check: The extent and depth of a background check can vary. Different types of background checks focus on specific areas of inquiry, such as criminal history, employment verification, or financial records.
    Not all background checks include a thorough examination of civil case records.
  3. Jurisdictional Variations: The availability and accessibility of civil case records can differ by jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have more robust online databases or public access to court records, making it easier to uncover civil case information.
    In other cases, the records may be less readily accessible or require specific requests or visits to the relevant courthouse.
  4. Timeframe Considerations: Background checks typically cover a specific period, such as the past seven years. Depending on the timeframe covered by the background check, older civil cases may not be included in the report.
  5. Limitations of Online Databases: Many online databases that provide access to public records are not comprehensive or up-to-date. They may not capture every civil case or provide complete and accurate information.
    Verifying any findings from online sources is advisable by directly contacting the relevant courthouse or conducting more extensive research, as some courts only keep physical files.

It’s important to note that civil cases generally do not have the same level of stigma or impact on employment opportunities as criminal cases.

However, there may be specific circumstances, such as cases involving fraud, financial misconduct, or professional malpractice, where civil case information could be relevant in certain employment or licensing contexts.

You should consult with the background check provider or an attorney (who is familiar with the relevant laws and regulations) if you are concerned information your background check info showing info about a civil case.

They can help you understand what information is legally allowed to be included, how it could potentially impact your situation, and what you can do about it.

Can Civil Cases Affect Employment?

​​Civil cases can potentially affect employment, but the impact varies depending on the nature of the case, the industry, the employer’s policies, and other factors. The following is a list of some job related considerations:

  1. Industry and Job Relevance: The relevance of a civil case to employment depends on the industry and the job requirements.
    Certain professions, such as finance, law, or positions of trust, may emphasize an individual’s legal history, including civil cases, as part of their hiring or licensing processes.
  2. Job Application and Background Checks: Some employers may conduct background checks as part of the hiring process. These checks can include searching for civil case records.
    If an employer discovers civil case information during the background check, they may consider it as part of their evaluation of the candidate.
    The significance of the case will depend on the employer’s policies, the role being sought, and the specifics of the case itself.
  3. Financial Responsibility and Integrity: Civil cases involving financial matters, such as bankruptcy, fraud, or breach of fiduciary duty, may be more relevant in employment situations where financial responsibility, integrity, or trustworthiness are key considerations.
  4. Reputation and Public Perception: High-profile civil cases or cases involving public figures can attract media attention and potentially impact public perception.
    Employers, especially those in industries that rely on public trust or customer relations, may consider such factors when making employment decisions.
  5. Employer Policies and Background Check Criteria: Each employer may have its own policies and criteria for evaluating an applicant’s background, including civil cases. Some employers may have strict guidelines, while others may consider the specifics of the case and allow for explanation or mitigation.

It is important to note that the impact of civil cases on employment can vary widely.

Employers typically consider multiple factors, including the severity and relevance of the case, the individual’s qualifications and experience, and other mitigating circumstances.

It is advisable to be prepared to address any questions or concerns related to a civil case during the application or interview process, should it arise.

If you have concerns about how a civil case may impact your employment prospects, you should consult with an employment attorney or seek guidance from a career counselor.

They can provide advice tailored to your specific situation and jurisdiction.

Who Pays Legal Fees in Civil Cases?

In civil cases, the parties involved are generally responsible for paying their own legal fees. Each party typically hires and pays for their own attorney to represent their interests throughout the case.

However, there are a few situations where legal fees may be handled differently, which include the following:

  1. Fee-Shifting Provisions: Some contracts or statutes include provisions that allow one party to pay the prevailing party’s legal fees in a civil case.
    These provisions are often included in certain types of agreements, such as employment contracts, lease agreements, or consumer protection laws. If such a provision exists and is enforceable, the losing party may be required to pay the prevailing party’s legal fees.
  2. Court Awards: In certain circumstances, the court may award attorney’s fees to one party as part of the judgment or settlement.
    This typically occurs when specific statutes or laws provide for the recovery of legal fees in certain types of cases, such as cases involving civil rights violations or certain consumer protection laws.
  3. Legal Aid or Pro Bono Services: In cases where a party is unable to afford legal representation, they may seek assistance from legal aid organizations or pro bono services.
    These services provide free or low-cost legal assistance to individuals who meet certain income and eligibility criteria.

It’s important to note that even in cases where a prevailing party is awarded legal fees, the amount recovered may not fully cover the actual costs incurred.

Attorney’s fees can be substantial, and the awarded amount may be limited by factors such as the reasonableness and necessity of the fees.

Additionally, it’s worth considering that legal fees can vary widely depending on the case’s complexity, the attorney’s experience and billing rates, and other factors.

Individuals involved in civil cases should discuss legal fees and payment arrangements with their attorney upfront to clearly understand the costs that may be involved.

What is Motion For Summary Judgment in a Civil Case?

A motion for summary judgment is a legal filing that can be made by any party in a civil case. Typically, the defendant (occasionally the plaintiff) is the party that requests the court to decide the case in their favor without proceeding to a full trial.

It is a procedural mechanism used to obtain a judgment based on the existing evidence and legal arguments, asserting that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The purpose of a motion for summary judgment is to resolve the case efficiently when there is no genuine dispute of material facts, eliminating the need for a trial.

It can save time and costs associated with a full trial when the moving party believes that they have a strong legal position and there is no need for further factual inquiry.

To succeed in a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate the following:

  1. No Genuine Issue of Material Fact: The moving party must show that there are no genuine disputes regarding the facts that are significant to the case. In other words, all material facts are agreed upon, or there is no reasonable dispute about them.
  2. Entitlement to Judgment as a Matter of Law: The moving party must establish that they are entitled to a judgment in their favor based on the undisputed facts and applicable law.
    This means showing that even when all the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no legal basis for the other party to prevail.
    If the court grants the motion for summary judgment, it means that the court has determined there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment.
    The case can be resolved at that stage, and a judgment will be entered accordingly. If the motion is denied, it means there are still disputed material facts that have yet to be resolved, and the case will proceed to trial.

It is important to note that the specific rules and procedures for filing and evaluating a motion for summary judgment can vary by jurisdiction.

Parties involved in a civil case should consult the applicable rules of civil procedure and seek legal advice to understand the requirements and strategies for pursuing or defending against a motion for summary judgment.

Can You Appeal a Civil Case?

Yes, it is generally possible to appeal a civil case if you are dissatisfied with the outcome. An appeal is a formal request to a higher court, known as the appellate court or court of appeals, to review and potentially overturn the decision made by the lower court.

The following are some key points to consider about the appeal process in civil cases:

  1. Grounds for Appeal: To pursue an appeal, you typically need to demonstrate that the lower court made an error of law or procedure that affected the case’s outcome.
    Common grounds for appeal include misapplication or misinterpretation of the law, errors in the admission or exclusion of evidence, or procedural irregularities.
  2. Appellate Court Review: The appellate court does not reevaluate the facts of the case or hear new evidence. Instead, it reviews the legal arguments and records of the case to determine if the lower court made a reversible error.
    The focus is on reviewing issues of law rather than re-trying the case on its merits.
  3. Appeal Process and Timelines: There are specific rules and deadlines for initiating an appeal, including filing a notice of appeal within a prescribed timeframe.
    Failure to meet these deadlines can result in the loss of the right to appeal. It’s crucial to consult the applicable rules of civil procedure or seek legal advice to ensure compliance with the appellate process requirements.
  4. Appellate Briefs and Oral Arguments: The appellant (the party initiating the appeal) and the appellee (the party responding to the appeal) submit written appellate briefs that present their legal arguments and references to relevant case law.
    The appellate court may also allow oral arguments where the parties have the opportunity to present their arguments in person.
  5. Appellate Court Decision: The appellate court can affirm the lower court’s decision, reverse it, or remand the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. If the appellate court determines that the lower court made an error, it may modify the decision or order a new trial.
  6. Finality and Further Appeals: In some jurisdictions, there may be further levels of appeal beyond the appellate court, such as a state supreme court or a federal appeals court.
    However, the ability to pursue further appeals is subject to certain criteria, including the importance of the legal issues involved and the discretion of the higher courts to grant further review.

It’s important to note that the appeals process can be complex and requires a thorough understanding of the relevant laws and procedures.

Also, it is advisable to consult with an attorney experienced in appellate practice to assess the merits of an appeal and navigate the appellate process effectively.

Can You Plead the Fifth in a Civil Case?

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from self-incrimination in criminal cases. However, the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination generally does not apply in civil cases.

Civil cases focus on resolving disputes between private parties rather than determining guilt or innocence.

While the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination does not directly apply in civil cases, there may be situations where a person’s testimony or response to certain questions could potentially incriminate them in a criminal matter.

In such cases, individuals may seek to assert their Fifth Amendment rights if there is a genuine risk of self-incrimination.

When an individual believes that answering a particular question in a civil case could expose them to criminal prosecution or penalties, they should consult with an attorney to evaluate the potential risks and determine whether to assert their Fifth Amendment privilege.

The court will then consider the validity of the claim and weigh the interests of the parties involved.

It is important to note that the availability and scope of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination may vary in different jurisdictions.

It is always advisable to consult with an attorney who is familiar with the relevant laws and procedures specific to the jurisdiction where the civil case is being heard.

What Happens When a Civil Case is Dismissed in Court?

When a civil case is dismissed in court, it means that the court has decided to terminate the case without a resolution on the merits. The dismissal can occur at various stages of the proceedings and can have different implications depending on the circumstances.

The following list includes some common scenarios of when a civil case will be dismissed:

  1. Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction: If the court determines that it does not have the authority or jurisdiction to hear the case, it may dismiss the case.
    This can happen if the court finds that the subject matter of the case falls outside its jurisdiction or if procedural deficiencies prevent the court from proceeding.
  2. Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim: If the court finds that the plaintiff’s complaint fails to sufficiently state a legal claim or cause of action, it may dismiss the case at the pleading stage.
    This typically occurs if the court determines that the complaint does not assert facts that, if proven true, would entitle the plaintiff to relief.
  3. Dismissal for Lack of Prosecution: If a party fails to actively pursue or advance the case, such as by failing to comply with court orders, attend hearings, or take necessary procedural steps, the court may dismiss the case for lack of prosecution.
    This is typically done to manage court dockets and encourage parties to diligently pursue their claims or defenses.
  4. Dismissal as a Result of Settlement or Agreement: Parties involved in a civil case can reach a settlement or agreement to resolve the dispute. In such cases, the parties may request that the court dismiss the case based on the terms of the settlement or agreement.

The specific consequences of dismissal will depend on the circumstances and the stage of the case. Some possible outcomes of dismissal include the following:

  1. Dismissal without Prejudice: A dismissal without prejudice means that the case can be refiled at a later date. The dismissal does not bar the plaintiff from pursuing the claim again, typically within a certain timeframe.
  2. Dismissal with Prejudice: A dismissal with prejudice means that the case is dismissed permanently, and the plaintiff is barred from bringing the same claim against the same defendant again.
    Dismissal with prejudice can occur if there is a legal basis to conclude that the claim is not viable or that the plaintiff is unable to cure the deficiencies in their case.
  3. Dismissal on Merits: In some cases, a dismissal may be based on the merits of the case, meaning that the court has evaluated the evidence and arguments presented and determined that the case lacks sufficient merit to proceed.
    Dismissals on the merits can impact the parties’ legal rights and may have implications for potential future claims or defenses.

It’s important to consult with an attorney who can provide advice based on the specific circumstances of a case and the applicable laws and rules governing dismissals in the relevant jurisdiction.

​​Can a Dismissed Civil Case be Reopened?

Yes, in certain circumstances, a dismissed civil case can be reopened, but it generally requires meeting specific criteria and following the appropriate legal procedures.

The following is a list of a few scenarios where a dismissed civil case may be reopened:

  1. Dismissal without Prejudice: If a civil case was dismissed without prejudice, it means the dismissal does not bar the plaintiff from refiling the case.
    In such cases, the plaintiff can typically reopen the case by filing a new complaint within the applicable statute of limitations or any other time limitations imposed by the court.
  2. Motion to Set Aside or Vacate the Dismissal: If a case was dismissed with prejudice or under specific circumstances, the party seeking to reopen the case may file a motion with the court to set aside or vacate the dismissal.
    This motion typically requires showing a valid reason, such as newly discovered evidence, fraud, mistake, or other grounds justifying the reopening of the case.
  3. Appellate Reversal: If a case is dismissed, the plaintiff has the option plaintiff can appeal the decision in front of an appellate court judge who may reverse the dismissal.
    If an appellate court determines that a lower court made an error in dismissing the case, it can reverse a dismissal and remand a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.
  4. Rule 60 Motion: In certain jurisdictions, Rule 60(b) allows parties to file a motion seeking relief from a final judgment or order, including a dismissal due to a mistake, fraud, newly discovered evidence, or other mistakes being made (legal or factual).

It’s important to note that the availability and procedures for reopening a dismissed civil case can vary by jurisdiction and the case’s specific circumstances.

It is advisable to consult with an attorney who is familiar with the laws and rules of the relevant jurisdiction to evaluate the prospects of reopening a dismissed case and guide you through the necessary legal steps.

Does Double Jeopardy Apply to Civil Cases?

No, the principle of double jeopardy generally does not apply to civil cases. Double jeopardy is a constitutional protection found in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same offense after being acquitted or convicted.

This principle is specific to criminal cases and aims to prevent the government from subjecting individuals to repeated prosecutions and punishment for the same conduct.

In contrast, civil cases involve disputes between private parties rather than criminal charges brought by the government.

Civil cases focus on resolving legal disputes and determining liability or responsibility for damages or other remedies.

The outcome of a civil case does not involve criminal punishment or criminal convictions. Therefore, the concept of double jeopardy does not apply to civil cases.

Even if a civil case addresses similar or related issues as a prior criminal case, the parties can still pursue their claims and defenses in the civil court, regardless of the previous criminal proceedings.

It is worth noting that civil and criminal cases can sometimes arise from the same underlying events, but they are separate legal proceedings with distinct purposes, burdens of proof, and potential outcomes.

The resolution of a criminal case does not preclude a civil case from proceeding or vice versa.

How to Find a Civil Case Online?

How you can find a civil case online can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the available resources. The following includes some of the more common ways and steps you can take to find a civil case online:

  1. Determine the Jurisdiction: Identify the court or jurisdiction where the civil case was filed. Civil cases are typically filed in state or federal courts, and the specific court will depend on the nature of the case and its subject matter.
  2. Access Court Websites: Visit the website of the relevant court or judicial system. Many courts provide online access to case information and records through their official websites. Look for sections such as “Case Search,” “Online Docket,” or “Public Records” on the court’s website.
  3. Search Court Databases: Utilize any online search tools or databases available on the jurisdiction’s website ( Individual counties often have their own website).The US court system has a special Judicial Panel website devoted to multidistrict litigation (MDL).
    These databases allow you to search for case information by party names, case numbers, or other relevant criteria. Enter the requested information to retrieve the desired case records.
  4. Online Public Record Databases: Some third-party websites compile and provide access to public records, including civil cases, from various jurisdictions.
    Examples of such websites include PACER (for federal cases in the United States), local county or state government portals, or commercial websites specializing in public records.
    Some of these services may require registration or payment of fees for access to detailed case information.
  5. Case Law and Legal Research Databases: If you are interested in finding information about court opinions or rulings in a civil case, legal research databases such as Lexis Nexis, Westlaw, or Trellis can be helpful.
    These databases offer comprehensive collections of case law, including civil case decisions, and provide search functionality to locate relevant cases.
  6. Consult with Court Clerks: If online access is limited or if you need more detailed information, consider contacting the court clerk’s office directly.
    Court clerks can guide you on accessing case records, searching for specific cases, or obtaining copies of documents. They can also advise on any fees or procedures involved in obtaining the desired information.

Keep in mind that the availability and accessibility of online case records can vary by jurisdiction and the specific court involved.

Some courts may have more limited online resources or require in-person visits to access case information.

It is recommended to consult the specific court’s website or contact the court directly for the most accurate and up-to-date information on accessing civil case records online.

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: July 31, 2023 10:20am CDT