Illinois Civil Litigation
Civil litigation involves any court proceeding that is not criminal in nature. Civil litigation may involve a car accident where injuries were sustained, a broken contract, a real estate dispute, a divorce, or a variety of other circumstances where someone is seeking to recover money or some other sort of remedy for damages they have incurred. In other words, when you say that you are looking for a civil attorney, that could mean almost anything. Some Illinois lawyers focus on general litigation. Some focus on wrongful death lawsuits. Some work in collections. All of them are civil lawyers.
While we always suggest to people who contact us that if they have a legal problem they are best served resolving it out of court is possible. That said, quite often settling out of court is impossible so your only option is to sue. The party that files a lawsuit is commonly referred to as the plaintiff. The party that is being sued is referred to as the defendant.
A lawsuit arises when the defendant is served with a summons and complaint by the plaintiff. In plain English, this means that they give you a copy of the lawsuit that has been filed with the court. There are strict timelines in which the defendant has to provide a response to plaintiff, or defendant can lose the case.
After being served with the summons, defendant has a limited number of days to respond to, or answer plaintiffs complaint. Once these documents are filed with the court, the discovery phase begins. Discovery is basically the gathering of information through a series of questions, which the parties will then be able to use to build their case when it proceeds to trial.
The discovery phase can last for months, and may require that the parties or witnesses involved in the case have their depositions taken. Many times cases settle before they go to court. The cases that do not settle out of court proceed to trial, where a judge or a jury weighs all the evidence, and comes to a final decision.
For all civil actions it is important to remember that there is a time limit to file a lawsuit. It is different for every type of case. Failure to file a lawsuit in time could result in your case being barred forever. In addition, if you are the defendant in a civil lawsuit, it is very important that you or your attorney show up to every court date. If you fail to do so it could result in a default judgment which basically means that the plaintiff will likely get everything they are looking for, even if it is wrong. They will win because you won't be there to counter anything they are saying.
If you have an injury lawsuit like medical malpractice or a car accident, your attorney will likely work on a contingency basis which means that you don't pay anything unless they win the case. For civil cases like divorce, suing a developer who didn't properly build a building and many other cases, you usually pay by the hour. This almost always involves an upfront payment called a retainer fee. In other cases like collections or commercial litigation you sometimes pay by the hour and sometimes can find a lawyer on a contingency basis. If you are the defendant in a lawsuit or part of a case where you aren't seeking money from the other side you will always pay an attorney by the hour. If you are trying to recover a small amount (e.g. you got rear-ended and had $1,500 damage to your car, but no injury) it makes sense to go to small claims court and not use an attorney. Otherwise you would probably pay more to the lawyer than you are trying to recover.
If you have questions about civil lawsuits in Illinois or would like an attorney recommendation, please contact us.
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