What is a civil case? [guide + examples 2023]

This is a definitive guide to the civil case.

In this guide you will learn;

  • what is a civil case
  • examples of civil case
  • Things to consider before filing the civil case
  • Civil case procedure and process
  • Should I ignore the civil case when sued?
  • What to do when you have been sued in a civil case?

Let’s get started

What is a civil case?

A civil case refers to a case that involves a dispute between two or more individuals or corporations.

A civil case commences when a person files a complaint/plaint to a court of the proper jurisdiction with the aim of seeking court help against another person.

For example, when you entered into a contract with John but John fails to act according to the terms of the contract as As a result, you suffer loss.

In this situation, you may file a civil case in court to seek compensation or any other relief against John

A person who files a civil case is called a plaintiff/claimant while the person to whom the case is filed is called the defendant and together are referred to as parties.

The court which has jurisdiction to hear a civil case is referred to as a civil court.

Examples of civil cases

A famous real-world example of a civil case is the case of  Grimshaw Vs. Ford Motors Co.(119 Cal. App.3d 757, 174 Cal. Rptr. 348) This is an old case decided in California in 1978.

In this case, the plaintiff was seeking compensation from the defendant for the personal injury he suffered due to the fire caused by the defendant’s company design.

The court awarded the plaintiffs $127.8 million as compensation.

You may read the full case here

But in general terms, any case which involves a dispute between two or more individuals is a good example of a civil case, but the common examples of civil cases may fall into the following categories.

Personal injury cases

In a personal injury case the person who suffered an injury as a result of another person’s fault sue that person, For example, a person who was injured in a car accident sue the driver of the car, or the person who breaks his arm after slipping and falling in a premise sue the owner of the premise, etc.

Breach of contract cases

here the party suffered loss/damages due to the other party failing to perform the contract for example failure to complete the job, failure to deliver the goods, etc.

Matrimonial cases

Matrimonial cases include all cases of divorce, separation, and others with a family nature. In matrimonial cases, a wife may petition for divorce against his husband or a husband may petition for separation against his wife

Employment cases

Employment cases are civil cases that arise in the course of employment. Here the employee may sue the employer for wrongful termination, pay rise, an injury suffered in the workplace, etc.

Who can file a civil suit?

Any person, organization, or business entity whose civil rights have been infringed may file a civil case to seek the proper redress.

For example, if the claim is based on tort the innocent party may file a civil suit against the wrongdoer for relief.

Things to consider before filing the civil case

Who to sue

In law who sue and sue must have a legal capacity to do so, this concept is technically known as the locus stand.

In civil cases who to sue is importantly similar to why you sue. Failing to sue the proper person will have a negative impact on your legal right, your case will be dismissed or you may not get any relief.

For example in breach of contract claims, a person who was not part of the contract cannot sue or be sued concerning any dispute that may arise from that contract.

Where to sue (which court to file your civil case)-jurisdiction

Apart from who to sue, another issue to consider before filing your civil case is where to sue.

The civil procedure rules require a suit to be instituted in the court of the lowest grade competent to try it.

The impact of filling a civil case in a court of incompetent jurisdiction is your case will be struck out.

Jurisdiction is a wide concept, but in general terms, every court has a limit on the nature of the case it can entertain. Make sure you are familiarizing yourself with the relevant limitations in your country/state so as to avoid unnecessary legal objections.

Read: What is jurisdiction and how it works

Where to file your civil case (place of suing)

After ascertaining the proper court which has jurisdiction to entertain your case, you must also consider the place to sue. Place of suing deals with the location of the court.

Generally, civil procedure rules require that: A civil suit must be filed where the subject matter situate.

This applies to the suit relating to immovable property.

For example, if you want to sue a person so that he can evict a land located in X district, then you must file your case in a court of competent jurisdiction located in X district.

Or

A civil suit must be filed where the defendant lives or where the cause of action arose.

For example, when you want to sue a person for breach of contract, you may file your case in the court of competent jurisdiction located within the area where the defendant lives or you may file your case in the court of competent jurisdiction located within the area where the contract was entered.

Time to sue (limitation of time)

Although infringement of your right without a justifiable cause gives rise to legal action such right is limited by time

Every civil claim has its own time to be entertained in court, the common phrase used o refer to such a thing is known as ‘limitation of time’

In civil cases, limitation of time refers to the timeframe of the institution of a civil case prescribed by law in relation to a civil claim; this timeframe runs from the date on which the cause of action arises.

The limitation of time differs according to the nature of the case.

For example, in Tanzania, the limitation of time to file a suit found in tort is 3 years. That means having a tortious claim against someone let’s say defamation, you can file your case within 3 years from the date where that person defamed you.

NB: Every country has its own law of limitation; make sure you familiarize yourself with the limitation of time in relation to your claim before instituting your case.

The impact of filling your case after the limitation of time is to have your case dismissed.

Exhaust out-of-court settlement

Court considers the efforts that you have put to settle the dispute out of it when deciding your case.

Before filing your case, make sure you have tried to settle your dispute out of court and let the other person know your intention to sue in a case of court settlement fails.

Assume you want to claim against someone based on a personal injury claim specifically slip and fall. To show that you have exhausted court remedies you may send the demand letter to that person.

That will show you have been asking the court to help, as a last resort.

Civil case procedure and process

The procedure of civil cases can mainly be categorized into three main stages; pre-trial stage, trial stage, and post-trial stage. The following are the civil case processes involved in each stage.

Pre-trial stage

This stage starts from where the dispute arises until the prosecution case opens.

The activities involved in this stage include

  • Parties gather important information about the case
  • The claimant issues the demand letter to the defaulting party
  • Parties try to negotiate and settle their dispute without court intervention
  • Once parties will succeed to settle their dispute, everything ends here, but once fails the following happens;
  • Pleadings stage, here the complainant or his attorney will draft and fill the Plaint while the defaulting party will draft and file the written statement of defense
  • Pre-trial settlement and scheduling settlements here the court assist parties to settle their dispute through
  • Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR) methods like mediation, negotiation, and arbitration.
  • Framing of issues; once the court-annexed ADR fails then parties will narrow the issues for trial

Trial stage

This stage starts from where the plaintiff’s case opens to where the court enter judgment.

Here is where the judge or magistrate hears the parties, technically it is called a ‘hearing’.

During trial-stage/ hearing parties are allowed to adduce their evidence and call witnesses.

In a civil case, the plaintiff is the first party to adduce evidence and call witnesses. When the plaintiff closes his case, the defendant’s case opens.

After the hearing, the court may allow parties to file final written submissions before entering its judgment.

Post-Trial Stage

This stage starts after the final judgment.

In the post-trial stage, parties to the civil case may exercise remedies like appeal, review, or revision or rights like execution and filling bill of costs.

Should I ignore the civil case when sued?

On occasion in your life, you may face a civil suit filed against you.

Facing a trial might be hectic and the feeling to ignore might cross your mind.

Since it is your life you may ignore everything you want including responding to the civil case lodged against you.

And of course, you might have good reasons to do so.

A reason like, ‘the case is baseless’ may strengthen your urge to ignore it. But when it comes to court issues, you must be very careful in doing that, because the consequence of ignoring might be worse

One of the consequences of the non-attending court is that the case can proceed without you (technically known as ex-parte) and the court will reach the decision (ex-parte judgment) which will be 100% binding to you.

Second, ignoring the civil suit may connote that you agree with every element of the claim against you since you have denied yourself the right to reply to the claims consequently the judgment delivered may favor the plaintiff/complainant.

Further, it is worth noting that since you have ignored the suit, it does not guarantee that the complainant may win the case.

What to do when you have been sued in a civil case?

The good thing to do when sued in a civil case is to file a reply to the claims and attend all court sessions just to avoid unnecessary inconvenience.

In fact, cases may create enmity, they are also cost full, stressful, time-consuming, etc.

Once you have been sued it is very wise to consider alternative ways to solve your dispute outside of the court process.

And the good news is that nowadays courts recognize and highly insists on the settlement of dispute out of court because it saves time, it is less cost full, it minimizes the chance of enmity and maintains your relationship, it is more private, it lacks technicality and mostly it is party autonomy-based.

Further, you may hire a lawyer to handle that case for you.

Also, you may give a power of attorney to a person (other than a lawyer) that you believe can represent you in that case.

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Editor-in-chief and founder of sherianajamii.com. Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. Lawyer by profession and blogger by passion