Civil litigation is the process whereby you take a non-criminal, non-family matter to court because you were unable to resolve the matter informally with your adversary or opponent. Put another way, you need a neutral party like a judge or jury to resolve a dispute. Often a civil matter begins informally with a demand or cease-and-desist letter. An example is where you have a business, you enter into a contract with a vendor, and the vendor fails to perform under the contract. You call it a breach of contract. You might send that vendor a letter and demand that he or she perform, pay you money damages, or both. If the vendor ignores you or tells you to “go pound sand,” what is your next step? It’s often civil litigation.
Civil litigation begins when a party (otherwise known as the plaintiff) files a complaint in state or federal court. At that point, the defending party (otherwise known as the defendant and, in the example above, the vendor) must file a written response to the complaint, usually within 20 days. If the defendant does not respond in writing, the Court usually enters a default judgment against the defendant and in favor of the plaintiff. As the name suggests, plaintiff wins by default. At that point, the judgment will grant the formal relief that plaintiff sought in the complaint.
However, if the defendant does answer the complaint and denies some or all of the allegations, both parties often engage in “discovery.” Discovery is where the parties can serve each other with written requests for production of documents, interrogatories (which is a fancy legal term for “questions”), and requests for admission. These discovery tools (i) allow the parties to learn more about the facts supporting the allegations and the applicable defenses, (ii) determine the case’s strengths and weaknesses, (iii) narrow down the legal and factual issues, and (iv) gather the evidence to help prove or disapprove the necessary elements at trial, if it doesn’t settle before then.
Another important civil litigation tool besides written requests and interrogatories is a deposition. A deposition means that you (or hopefully, your attorney) get the formal opportunity to ask questions under oath of the opposing party or a third-party witness.
Once the parties have concluded discovery, civil litigation moves onto the ultimate test, the trial. At trial, both parties present argument and evidence supporting their argument to convince a judge or jury to enter a judgment or verdict in their favor. The length of a trial depends on whether the matter is complicated. Some last only an hour, some last a few weeks.
Whether you need to take a matter to court or defend yourself from a complaint, an experienced and skilled civil litigation attorney in Tampa will guide you or your business through the process outlined above and the civil rules associated with the litigation process. If you have any doubt that you need an attorney in this process, please click here to read the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.
An experienced lawyer serving businesses in Tampa can help you protect your commercial enterprise. The attorneys at Savage Villoch Law have the experience to assist you with issues involving securities, business, and other civil laws. No matter your situation, the team at Savage Villoch Law has litigation experience, knows the Tampa Bay Area, and will work hard to gain a complete understanding of your needs, let you know your options, and help you make a wise decision based on your situation. To schedule an appointment, complete our contact form or call 813-200-0013.