What Is Civil Litigation
We've all heard the terms "suing someone," "filing a lawsuit," and "filing a complaint." But what does this mean, and what goes into the "litigation" process in South Carolina?
Defining Civil Litigation
Civil litigation is the process by which one person uses the court system to determine issues of fact and law in a specific matter. For example, if you were injured in an Orangeburg car wreck and the automobile insurance adjuster refuses to pay you what your claim is worth, your only options are likely to (1) accept their offer of money or (2) file a lawsuit to allow a judge or jury to listen to the facts and evaluate the case.
Civil litigation does not involve criminal law; however, aspects of legal violations are part of civil litigation. Take for instance a car wreck: if a Greenwood, SC drunk driver runs a stop sign and hits your vehicle, they have violated the civil statutes prohibiting driving under the influence and requiring that they stop at a stop sign. Though there may be a separate criminal action, the civil side focuses on your damages and, potentially, the punitive aspect of the at-fault driver's actions.
Litigation Words and Phrases
Here are some commonly used words and phrases you may hear discussed when learning about the process of getting your case to trial:
Plaintiff - the person who files the lawsuit (e.g., car wreck victim in Columbia, SC)
Defendant - the person against whom a lawsuit is filed (e.g., doctor who committed medical malpractice in Allendale, SC)
Summons - the first document filed in a lawsuit, telling the defendant that you have filed a lawsuit
Complaint - the main document a plaintiff files, listing the facts of the case, setting forth their legal theories, and requesting damages
Answer - the first document a defendant normally files, responding to each point made in a plaintiff's Complaint
Discovery - the process by which the plaintiff and defendant "discover" facts related to the case; this includes written questions, recorded testimony, motions, requests for documents, and more
Deposition - when the attorneys take the recorded testimony of a witness or party
Mediation - a process involving a third-party (attorney), whereby the plaintiff and defendant meet and allow the mediator to assist in settling the case
Jury Trial - when a group of county citizens determines the facts and outcome of a case; the judge still issues the law
Bench Trial - when a judge (sitting at his/her "bench") determines the law, the facts, and outcome of a case
Process of a Lawsuit
The typical scenario for litigation is one in which the victim attempts to settle a case, but the adjuster offers to settle for an amount that is too low and doesn't fairly represent the full value of the claim. At this stage, the victim files a Summons and Complaint and serves them on the at-fault party. The at-fault party (now defendant) then serves their Answer on the victim (now plaintiff). From here, discovery begins and sometimes last all the way up to the date of the trial. Prior to trial, depositions are normally taken of the plaintiff, defendant, witnesses, experts, and treating physicians. Then, most South Carolina civil cases require each party to participate in mediation prior to trial. After mediation, the last stage is trial.
Also, it is important to note that each case is different (e.g., medical malpractice cases sometimes require pre-suit mediation). I have filed Complaints in cases before attempting any settlement; most trucking cases have value in documents and testimony that I can only obtain through the litigation process. Alternatively, I have had cases settle before any discovery is exchanged, and I have had cases settle after mediation failed. Each case, each client, and each story is unique; therefore, each lawsuit is unique.
South Carolina Trial Attorney
Attorney Andrew Littlejohn Johnson is an experienced South Carolina trial lawyer. However, many attorneys may advertise as "trial lawyers" or "trial attorneys." The truth is that any lawyer who has gone to court and tried a case in front of a judge or jury is technically a "trial" lawyer/attorney.
If you were injured because of someone else's actions, the bigger question you should have is whether you trust an attorney to fight for you from the start of the case until the time your case concludes. Some cases go to trial; some cases don't. Regardless of how your case concludes (be it a settlement prior to filing a lawsuit, settlement at mediation, or a jury verdict), you should be able to trust your attorney to advise you along the way.
Your Case, Your Choice
When deciding to hire a lawyer, it's important to trust that attorney. This means trusting them with your case, trusting them to let you know what's going on in your matter, and trusting them to fight for you in court if necessary. With our clients, we inform them what we believe are the best options, we explain why we believe this, we answer any questions the client has, and then we follow through on the client's final determination.
If you are unrepresented and unsure whether you have or a case or should hire an attorney, Andrew is here to speak to you. Feel free to write down all of your questions and then reach out to us when you are ready.