Civil trial law is the practice of law that handles all civil litigation, whether the case occurs at the state or federal level, at an administrative agency, or an ADR. Specifically, civil trials do not involve criminal charges.
A lawyer who specializes in the area of civil litigation is called a trial lawyer or a litigator. Civil litigation happens across the spectrum of law, from divorce proceedings to personal injury cases to business disagreements between partners. In Florida, these proceedings are governed by the Florida Civil Procedure rules, and the procedure is outlined in FS 51.011.
What are the States of the Civil Litigation Process?
The process of a civil trial can be broken down into three distinct stages: the pre-trial process, the trial, and the post-trial process.
Civil Litigation Pre-trial Process
The first stage of the pre-trial process occurs when a client meets with a lawyer and discusses their specific situation. A Florida civil litigator will be able to advise whether or not there is a case, whether or not a lawsuit is the best option, and if an alternative dispute resolution is advisable.
The next pre-trial stage is pleadings, when a plaintiff, usually with the help of an attorney, files a complaint with the court. The goal of pleadings is for both sides to present what they intend to argue and prove. The complaint often outlines the plaintiff’s version of what transpired and the damages they will be seeking. A defendant will usually file an answer or reply to a complaint, as long as it is completed within a set time frame (five days in Florida). Additionally, the defendant may file a counterclaim at this time.
The discovery stage is perhaps the longest when it comes to civil litigation cases: It’s the portion where lawyers are gathering evidence for their case, so it makes sense that it would be extensive and detailed. Discovery consists of written discovery, oral discovery, and possibly physical or mental examinations. Written discovery can include interrogatories, or written questions, requests for documents, and requests for admissions.
Oral discovery is the component most folks are familiar with; it’s the deposition portion, where witnesses are recorded and answer questions under oath. The witnesses may be connected to the case, or they could be subject matter experts with specific relevant knowledge. The information uncovered in discovery is admissible as evidence during the trial.
Finally, this is a stage where lawyers can request actions from the judge in the form of motions. If a lawyer is going to file a motion for summary judgment, this would be the time to do so. Cases do not always move from discovery to trial. In fact, sometimes they resolve without going to trial.
Civil Litigation Trial Process
A judge presides over the trial stage of civil litigation in Florida. Although this might seem like the final stage, as we will see, it is not! The trial portion is made up of three phases.
A settlement occurs if both parties can agree on a resolution before a trial proceeding. This can be much less costly than going to trial, and allow for the parties to retain some control of the outcome, rather than subjecting themselves to the decision of a judge or jury. Occasionally, a judge may mandate that parties attempt to settle before a trial.
This portion involves the actual presentation of evidence. The plaintiff is first to present their case, and it is their responsibility to prove their case “by the preponderance of the evidence,” which means that there is a greater than 50% likelihood that the defendant caused the damage that was noted in the initial filed claim.
After the defendant’s and plaintiff’s attorneys present their evidence, it is time for a judge or jury to make a decision and issue a verdict.
The judgment is the final decision made by the judge or jury. If the trial is a jury trial, the judge will direct the jury in their proceedings. The jury will deliberate and then return with a verdict. If the trial does not have a jury, then the verdict is up to the judge, who then issues their decision based on the evidence presented and the relevant Florida or federal statutes.
Post-Trial State of the Civil Litigation Process
The final stage of civil litigation is the post-trial phase, when appeals can be filed. In Florida, you have thirty days from the rendition of the judgment to file an appeal.
If an appellate court agrees to hear the appeal, they can dismiss it, reverse the judgment, uphold the judgment, or remand it to the lower court. In the post-trial phase, the court may also be asked to enforce an order or decision.
We Cannot Express the Importance of Hiring an Experienced and Competent Trial Lawyer to Represent Your Interests
As civil litigations go, the process is not simple or easy to navigate. There are many procedurals components to be aware of, and it’s critical to the success of your case that you find an experienced civil litigator who can assist you in negotiating the legal process.
Boyer Law Firm’s team has significant experience in civil litigation and is here to answer any questions you may have about the process or your potential case. Contact us today with your concerns.