One of the ways the American legal system can be broken down is to distinguish the two separate branches of civil law and criminal law. Civil law is used to settle disagreements between two or more parties and can involve any combination of private citizens, businesses, government institutions and agencies, or other parties. When someone commits a crime it is considered to be a crime against the government where only the government can charge someone with a crime. In some situations, a person who is charged and tried for a crime may also be tried in a civil court where the outcome of one case is not supposed to have any influence on the other.

Civil Courts

A civil court case involves a dispute between two or more entities. Civil claims can be brought by one or more entity, the plaintiff(s), against another entity or more than one, called the defendant(s). It is more common for civil claims to be filed by a single entity against one or a few defendants but class action lawsuits are not uncommon. A class action lawsuit is when there are many plaintiffs with the same problem seeking restitution from the same defendant or defendants. Faulty and dangerous product lawsuits are a common problem that may result in a class action lawsuit.

Some civil courts such as family law courts, deal with making decisions about disputes but also conduct hearings for things that may or may not be contested such as, adoptions, divorces, child support, child custody and visitation rights.

Civil Trials

When there is a dispute that reaches the trial phase of a civil lawsuit, it can be tried one of two ways. A civil lawsuit can tried before a judge and a jury where the judge supervises the courtroom proceedings and everyone involved, and the judge gives the jury directions on what and how they should make their decision(s), in order to decide the outcome of the case. A trial with a jury is often referred to as a jury trial. A civil lawsuit can also be tried and decided on in front of a judge with no one else involved in the decision making. This kind of trial is referred to as a bench trial.

Civil Lawsuit Outcomes

Most civil lawsuits are filed for the purpose of seeking monetary reparation for damages the defendant or defendants caused. Many civil lawsuits come to a settlement before they reach the trial phase or during the trial itself but before both sides have finished presenting their cases. Depending on the circumstances of individual trials, coming to a compromise and agreeing on a settlement is usually not what either side really wants but they decide that knowing the amount of the settlement is better than taking the risk of (for the plaintiff) getting rewarded even less than this or nothing, or (for the defendant) having to pay more than what the settlement amount is for.

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