There are two types of cases in the justice system: criminal and civil. While a criminal case aims to convict someone of a crime and issue punishment, a civil case is meant to compensate a victim for the injuries and losses he or she suffered in an accident. You may have grounds to file a civil suit in Missouri if someone committed an act of wrongdoing that caused you harm. Learn more about civil suits with these frequently asked questions. Then, contact a personal injury lawyer to request a free consultation for more information.
What Is a Civil Suit?
A civil suit means that an injured party, known as the plaintiff in civil law, has filed the paperwork to initiate a claim against one or more parties (known as the defendants) for allegedly causing an injury or other losses, such as property damage or lost wages. Bringing a cause of action in the form of a civil lawsuit seeks financial compensation from the defendant(s) to make the plaintiff whole again.
Who Files a Civil Suit?
In the civil justice system, it is the injured party, a representative of the injured party or surviving family member of a deceased loved one that files a civil suit. This is in contrast to criminal law, where the county prosecutor brings criminal charges against a defendant. There may also be rules on who can file depending on the type of case. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri, for example, is only possible for a surviving spouse, parent, child or sibling.
What Is the Deadline to File a Civil Suit in Missouri?
An injured accident victim has a limited amount of time in which to file a civil suit. If a victim files too late, he or she generally gives up the right to file, as the courts will refuse to hear the case. The deadline varies from state to state. In Missouri, the standard statute of limitations is five years from the date of the accident or injury discovery.
How Are Decisions Made in Civil Suits?
A civil suit goes before a judge and – in most cases – a jury. A jury is a panel of 12 people chosen to hear the case who will decide whether or not the plaintiff has met the burden of proof. In civil law, it is the injured party’s burden to prove that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for causing the accident in question. This burden of proof is known as a preponderance of the evidence.
If a jury decides the plaintiff has provided enough evidence, it will decide the amount of financial compensation (damages) to be awarded. This is typically decided with a combination of calculating the victim’s economic losses and estimating a fair amount in non-economic losses based on the severity of the injury and other factors. If the jury does not believe the plaintiff has met the burden of proof, the plaintiff will not receive any damages.
Do All Civil Suits Go to Trial?
No, all civil suits do not go to trial. The vast majority of personal injury cases are resolved with settlements at the pretrial phase. A settlement means the victim and insurance company have come to an agreement on an amount of money that is suitable to resolve the case and release the defendant from any further liability. Both parties may use tools such as alternative dispute resolution (e.g. mediation and arbitration) to resolve a case without going to trial.
If the defendant or defendant’s insurance company does not offer adequate financial compensation or wrongfully denies the case, the plaintiff can take the defendant to trial in Kansas City instead. Hiring a personal injury attorney decreases the odds of going to trial, as an insurance company will treat a client more fairly knowing that his or her attorney has the ability to go to court. A lawyer can also represent the plaintiff during a civil trial, if necessary.