Civil Suits: Definition & Types

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  • 0:00 Civil Suits Defined
  • 1:33 Filing a Civil Suit
  • 2:33 Types of Civil Suits
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janell Blanco
In this lesson, we will define civil suits and explore how they are different from criminal suits. We will also discuss different types of civil suits. In addition, there will be a short quiz at the end of the lesson.

Civil Suits Defined

Carmen just wanted to get her money back. Her ex-husband borrowed $2,000 to get an apartment shortly after they separated. He promised to pay her the money back and even signed a contract with the lawyers saying he would pay the money back. Carmen has not received a repayment, so she filed a civil suit against her ex-husband to get her money back.

A civil suit is different than a criminal suit. A civil lawsuit settles disputes between private parties, which can include individuals and organizations. Civil suits also finalize divorces, name changes, or any personal affairs that need a judge or court's approval.

Do you know what the differences are between criminal and civil cases? In a criminal case, a crime has been committed, and the offender is being tried for the crime. In a civil suit, there is a dispute between two parties, but a crime has not been committed; a person may just want to get their money back, they may want to get paid for damages done to their home, or they may want the other individual to fulfill a contract. The dispute could also be a divorce or child custody case.

The major difference to keep in mind is that a criminal suit is about a crime, and a civil suit is between two parties trying to settle their differences. Well, there is one other difference between civil and criminal suits, and that is that there is no right to an attorney in one of them. In a criminal case, an offender has the right to an attorney, even if he or she cannot afford one. In a civil suit, if a party cannot afford a lawyer, then that party must represent itself.

Filing a Civil Suit

Okay, so now that we've covered some of the most important differences between civil and criminal suits, to be fair to everyone there must be some regulatory factors to civil suits, and we should note that most states require documentation showing a dispute between two parties. For example, in our discussion about Carmen and her ex-husband, Carmen has a contract showing that her ex-husband agreed to pay her the money back.

One last item to take note of: civil suits are often filed in the county courts with filing fees, because civil suits are generally not free to file. Some courts even make the person filing the claim pay a fee to have the other party served with the papers telling them when to appear in court. While many of these items may vary by state and county, we must still make note of the filing fees and processing fees.

So, keep in mind that civil suits are two parties settling differences or taking care of personal affairs, and they are not given the right to an attorney. Now that we have an understanding of the differences between criminal and civil suits, let's take a look at the different types of civil suits.

Types of Civil Suits

There are several different types of civil suits. One thing to keep in mind is that this lesson will only discuss the general definition of a civil suit, but each state has different criteria for filing suits. There may also be different types of civil suits in each state, but in this lesson we will be discussing the most common types of civil suits across all states. With that being said, let's think about Carmen's case again and see what type of civil suit she will be filing.

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