CHAPTER 8: OVERVIEW OF CIVIL CASES - Table of Contents
8.1 - Introduction • 8.2 - Where to find civil law • 8.3 - Starting a civil case: the complaint • 8.4 - Serving the complaint • 8.5 - Responding to the complaint • 8.6 - Requesting a jury • 8.7 - Alternate Dispute Resolution • 8.8 - Initial Procedural Requirements • 8.9 - Pretrial Discovery • 8.10 - Summary judgment motions • 8.11 - Trial • 8.12 - Damages, Costs and Attorneys Fees
Trial procedures in civil cases are generally similar to those in criminal or other proceedings. There are differences as to the number of jurors (generally only six) and the manner in which peremptory jury challenges are exercised.
The party bringing a claim (or counterclaim or cross-claim) has the burden of proving such claim. A defendant raising an affirmative defense has the burden of establishing it. Generally, the plaintiff goes first in presenting witnesses and is given the opportunity to make the first closing argument and a rebuttal closing argument.
Unlike in a criminal case in which guilt must be proven by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, all civil claims are governed by a less-stringent "preponderance of the evidence" basis. This means that if the trier of fact is 51 percent convinced as to a party's claim, it is to find in favor of that party on that claim. Civil jurors, who are often more familiar through television with criminal trials, sometimes indicate confusion as to the applicable standard of proof, reporting after a trial for instance that they did not think the civil defendant had been proven "guilty" beyond a reasonable doubt.
The civil jury's verdict is usually a fairly terse statement indicating which party it found to have prevailed as to each claim submitted to it. In the case of successful claims seeking monetary damages, the jury then goes on to state what amount if any it has determined to be appropriate. Occasionally the jury also provides answers to "special jury interrogatories" submitted to it by the trial judge, who may use such answers to decide other issues that must be resolved ultimately by the judge or to illuminate certain aspects of the jury's verdict.
Just as in criminal cases, the trial judge has the authority to not submit certain claims or defenses to the jury at all upon a finding that the evidence is so insufficient that no reasonable jury could reasonably find such claim or defense to be supported. The trial judge also has the authority to reject or modify the jury's verdict upon similar findings.
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