Taking a case to civil court has some similarities with criminal court, except that the decision the court must make is not about whether someone is guilty of a crime. Instead, the question is whether one party somehow violated the rights of the other. No one will go to jail based on the court’s decision, but one party may end up facing different kinds of consequences, such as owing financial remuneration or having to fulfill the terms of a contract.
Civil cases begin long before the two sides step into the courtroom, and in many cases, the parties can reach an agreement before the court date arrives. However, this is not always the case, and if you have a lot at stake, compromise may not be an option. Therefore, if your case is heading to court, you will want to know what to expect.
Getting ready for trial
If you are the party bringing a lawsuit against another individual, North Carolina business or other entity, it is likely because the other party has somehow violated your rights. A civil lawsuit may arise between business owners or managers and their employees, business partners or shareholders, those challenging the actions of an estate executor, landlords and tenants, or countless other scenarios. Generally, the steps involve the following:
- You, as the plaintiff, file a complaint with the appropriate court.
- The defendant receives a summons, which is a notice that you have filed a lawsuit against him or her.
- Both sides will enter the “discovery phase,” which is a time to gather as much information as possible to support their claims.
- The sides will schedule times for depositions, which is part of the discovery phase.
- You must release all information the other side requests, and they must disclose what you ask for.
- You will use the information you gather during discovery to build your case.
- Your case may go before a jury or a single judge, depending on the circumstances involved.
The discovery phase, which may take several months, is where both sides can weigh the strength of their cases and see if they are strong enough to go to trial. The burden of proof rests on you since you are the one who filed the complaint, and if there is not enough evidence to prove a violation, the court may rule for the defendant. When the court date arrives, you should be ready to proceed with trial. It is a complex, time-consuming and sometimes exhausting process, but a successful civil suit may help you set things right and reclaim what is rightfully yours.