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CHAPTER 8: OVERVIEW OF CIVIL CASES - Table of Contents

8.1 - Introduction8.2 - Where to find civil law8.3 - Starting a civil case: the complaint8.4 - Serving the complaint8.5 - Responding to the complaint8.6 - Requesting a jury8.7 - Alternate Dispute Resolution8.8 - Initial Procedural Requirements8.9 - Pretrial Discovery8.10 - Summary judgment motions8.11 - Trial8.12 - Damages, Costs and Attorneys Fees

8.2 WHERE TO FIND THE CIVIL LAW

Unlike criminal law, in which statutes create and define all crimes, there are several sources of civil law. The substantive law can be found in statutes, both the Colorado Revised Statutes and the United States Code. Although these statutes also contain definitions of crimes, they also set forth many standards regulating the private and civil conduct of individuals, businesses and governments; violating one of these civil standards will not be illegal and punishable criminally but it can still be unlawful and subject to civil enforcement. But there can be a basis for a civil claim even though no state or federal civil law has been violated. For instance, even though no statute imposes civil liability for negligent driving or negligent medical care resulting in personal injuries, such negligence lawsuits are common. These kinds of negligence-based liability claims are instead based on standards that have been developed as part of the common law by courts over hundreds of years, beginning in Great Britain and continuing in the United States. Just as every state's statutes are different in varying degrees from other states', each state's court-developed standards are also unique. Understanding what the common law is, and how to research it, is much of what lawyers are taught in law school. The most helpful guide to Colorado's common law is found in the Colorado Civil Jury Instructions, which contain extensive summaries for many different subject areas.

In addition to the substantive law derived from statutes and the common law, civil cases are significantly governed by procedural rules. These rules regulate civil cases in the stages leading up to, during and after trial. The rules for cases in federal court are the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, developed by the United States Supreme Court. In-state court cases the rules are the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure (many of which are derived from and similar to the federal rules), developed by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Colorado's statutes and common law will control many cases in state court. This is also true for many cases in Colorado federal court where the claims are based on state law. Federal statutes will instead govern cases in either state or federal court involving only federal claims. Although somewhat unusual, there is also a potential for cases in either state or federal court to be governed by the law of some other state entirely. This can happen when the parties to a contract originally agreed that any eventual dispute would be governed by some other state's law, or where most of the significant developments in the parties' dispute occurred in some other state. Although another state's laws and common law may be similar to Colorado's, they may also be significantly different. The branch of the law dealing with determining which state's law applies to a dispute is called "conflict (or choice) of laws."

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