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California Civil Procedure and the Civil Trial Process

With so many television series focused on dramatized criminal trials, few people understand how a civil lawsuit works. What is California civil procedure? What is the civil trial process?

Civil litigation deals with disputes between individuals or organizations. Remedies can include money damages (such as financial damages after a serious personal injury) and specific performance (such as requiring a party to perform under the terms of a contract).

Generally, the civil trial process includes:

  • Complaint and answer: In order to bring a civil suit, a plaintiff must file a written complaint with the court. After the complaint is filed, the defendant will have time to respond in writing.
  • Discovery: After the complaint is filed and answered, both parties will have a chance to research the facts of the case. This process is called "discovery" and can include a number of trial preparation techniques, such as questioning witnesses, sending written questions to the other party and exchanging documents with the other party.
  • Settlement negotiation: During any point in the lawsuit, the parties and their attorneys may meet to discuss the facts of the case and try to come to a settlement agreement. If the parties reach an agreement on all of the issues, they can enter that agreement with the court and may not have to go to trial.
  • Civil trial: During a civil trial, both sides have a chance to prove their case before a judge. In some suits, such as select personal injury lawsuits, the case may be argued in front of a jury. The judge's or jury's decision is binding on the parties but may be appealed.
  • Civil appeals: If a case is decided improperly during trial, a party may bring an appeal to the California appellate courts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Depending on the type of civil litigation and the facts of the case, the parties may choose to resolve their disputes through an alternative dispute resolution method such as mediation or arbitration.

In mediation, a neutral third party meets with both of the parties to try to help them come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

In arbitration, the parties present their cases to an arbitrator who then makes a decision. The arbitrator's decision is generally binding like a judge's decision; however, unlike in general civil litigation, the decision is not public. Private business disputes are often resolved through arbitration.

This blog highlights the basic steps of a civil court case. Each branch of civil litigation is unique. There are specific rules of civil procedure (such as different statutes of limitation - or the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a case) for the various types of civil cases. A real estate case is going to be different from trust litigation, which will be different from a construction contract dispute.

Whatever civil lawsuit you face, it is important to speak with a lawyer experienced in California civil procedure who can help you protect your rights.

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