Most court cases in the U.S. can be categorized as either a criminal or civil case. A criminal case involves a government prosecutor charging the defendant with a criminal offense, with penalties including fines and prison time. Civil cases can include everything else, from a contract dispute to a car accident, to an employment discrimination claim.
Civil Lawsuits in Colorado
A civil lawsuit usually begins after a dispute or accident. One party may feel they were wronged by another person, group of people, or a corporation, and suffered a financial or physical injury as a result. They may have sought money damages after the dispute, and if they were not compensated or did not receive a satisfactory response, they may have filed a lawsuit to compel the other party to compensate them for their damages.
A civil lawsuit can involve just about anything, over any amount. A civil lawsuit could be filed seeking a few hundred dollars or a few millions of dollars. It could involve a dispute between two neighbors, or a complaint between a consumer and a large international corporation. It may involve two individuals, multiple plaintiffs and defendants, or thousands of people in a class action lawsuit. Some of the most common civil lawsuits filed in Colorado include:
- Contract Disputes
- Business Disputes
- Car Accidents
- Trucking Accidents
- Premises Liability claims
- Wrongful Death
- Wrongful Termination
- Debt Collection
- Product Liability
- Slip and Falls
- Breach of Warranty
- Medical Malpractice
- Professional Malpractice
- Personal Injury
Filing a Civil Claim
Before a civil case is filed, the individual bringing the lawsuit has to decide where to file the lawsuit. In cases involving parties from different states or questions relating to federal law, the lawsuit may be filed in federal court. However, most civil cases in Colorado are filed in state court. In cases involving simple lawsuits that do not exceed $7,500 in dispute, the case may be filed in small claims court.
Civil lawsuits in Colorado are generally filed with the County Court or District Court. The County Court can hear cases involving an amount in controversy up to $15,000. If the amount in controversy is more than $15,000, the case must be filed in District Court. There are 22 Judicial Districts in Colorado representing different counties.
A civil case begins with filing a complaint. The complaint generally provides the factual background of the dispute and basis for relief under the law. The complaint makes some request for relief by the court, such as a request for damages. After the plaintiff files the complaint with the court, it must be served on the defendant. After the defendant is served, they have 21 days to file an answer in state or federal court. The answer should address each of the plaintiff's causes of action and include any defenses, cross-claims, or counterclaims.
Once the pleadings (complaint and answer) are filed, the parties then enter “discovery.” This is the process of gathering and exchanging information between the parties. This includes interrogatories, which are formal questions to be given a written response or objection. It also involves a request for documents, where the other party must hand over copies of documents for the other unless objections are made. Discovery also includes depositions which are questions and answer sessions. The individual deposed is placed under oath and asked questions, with their lawyer often making objections, all recorded by a court reporter.
Defending a Civil Lawsuit
The plaintiff is the party who brought the legal claim and the defendant is forced to defend themselves against the claims of the plaintiff. In many disputes, the plaintiff and the defendant both have claims against the other. In these situations, it may not matter who is the first to file as the law allows for counterclaims and cross-claims, and can even amend the pleadings to bring in additional parties. However, as more claims and more parties are involved, the process can become more complex, take more time, and require more money.
Unfortunately, often defendants are brought into a case which they feel has no merit. However, because the plaintiff went through the process of filing a legal claim, the defendant may be forced to hire an attorney to defend their position. Some plaintiffs file lawsuits only to harass another person. In some cases, the defendant can seek the cost of legal costs and court fees from the plaintiff to offset the costs required by an unnecessary lawsuit.
If you have been served with a lawsuit, it is important to take the claim seriously. If you ignore the case, a default may be entered against you and the plaintiff can collect on the judgment. This can result in garnished wages, a judgment on personal property, and affect your credit rating. Talk to an attorney as soon as you can to ensure your response is filed in time and your interests are represented.
Settlement or Court Trial
While most legal dramas on TV involve courtroom cases, in reality, most cases never make it to trial. The vast majority of civil cases are settled before they ever get before a jury. There are a number of reasons why settlement may be the best option for both parties. Juries can be unpredictable. Both parties may prefer a predictable outcome that avoids putting the entire decision of the case into the hands of the jury. Additionally, jury trials can take a lot of time and preparation, resulting in increased legal fees for both parties. In some cases, a party to the lawsuit may want to avoid going through the long process of a trial, especially if they suffered a physical injury or traumatic loss.
Settlements can occur at any time during litigation. It could occur during early negotiations before discovery even takes place. Settlements become more likely the further the case goes. Once all discovery is completed, both parties have a fair idea of how much the case may be worth and whether one party is more likely to succeed on the merits of the case. This gives the parties a better idea of what kind of settlement they can reach.
Ultimately, it is up to the parties whether they want to accept a settlement or not. Your attorney can advise you what your case may be worth, the chances of success on going to trial, and whether the settlement is recommended; however, the individual gets to make the final call.
If the parties cannot settle, the case may go to trial. In a jury trial, the case is presented before a jury, with the judge acting to make rulings on the case and instruct the jury on their role. Some cases involve a bench trial, where the judge is also the fact-finder. Bench trials may be beneficial in complex or technical cases that may be difficult to explain to a juror.
After both parties present their cases, call witnesses and experts, present evidence, and make their legal arguments, the judge or jury will make a final determination. The verdict will generally find for one party or the other on the specific issues presented in the pleadings. After this ruling, if one or both parties object to the findings, they may file an appeal.
Damages in a Civil Case
Most civil lawsuits involve a claim for monetary damages. These damages are intended to put the plaintiff into a similar position they would have been but for the actions of the defendant. This may include both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the direct costs associated with the accident, injury, or dispute. For example, in a car accident, the economic damages may include automobile repair costs, medical bills related to the accident, and lost wages if the individual was unable to work because of their injuries. In addition, non-economic damages may be available in some cases, including pain and suffering and loss of companionship by a spouse.
Colorado Civil Lawsuit Attorney
If you have been injured in a car accident, have a business dispute, or any other type of civil lawsuit claim, the Olson Law Firm will represent you get compensation for the money you are owed. We will provide you with the personal attention you expect and deserve and always keep the lines of communication open. It is our dedication and commitment that makes the Olson Law Firm one of Colorado and Wyoming's preeminent law firms. Contact our office today.