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Maddox, Segerblom & Canepa

What Is Civil Litigation?

Civil litigation entails one party seeking either compensation or the cessation or instigation of an action without any involvement of criminal charges. Knowing more about the differences between civil and criminal litigation will give you a better idea of what types of cases qualify as either.

Civil Litigation Defined

Civil litigation involves a plaintiff and a defendant, where the plaintiff seeks monetary compensation or a certain action from the defendant for damages that the defendant caused to the plaintiff. In many cases, civil litigation entails negotiating a settlement from the defendant or the defendant’s insurers.

Many types of cases fall under the definition of civil lawsuits, including:

  • Personal injury, including vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents, and other causes of injuries
  • Product liability
  • Medical malpractice
  • Real estate issues
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Construction Defect 
  • Breach of Contract

These cases differ from criminal litigation, which pertains to cases involving criminal penalties and potential convictions. Criminal cases may seek convictions for crimes or misdemeanors along with specific forms of punishment for these criminal acts, including anything from fines to prison time. Some cases may involve both civil and criminal litigation, depending on the circumstances, such as cases where a defendant’s criminal acts result in wrongful death.

Civil cases can also involve many people, including multiple plaintiffs and defendants, such as in class action lawsuits seeking damage from a corporate entity for a large number of harmed plaintiffs.

Civil Litigation Terms and What They Mean

When getting involved in a civil lawsuit, there are many legal terms you may encounter. The following are some of the many civil litigation terms out there and their definitions:


Civil cases deal with tort law, which applies when one party’s negligence or malicious acts cause injuries and other damages to the Plaintiff.


This pertains to the legal responsibility for causing harm to another, either through a specific action or inaction. Proving liability is critical in many civil cases, but it’s not a requirement for all of them, such as workers’ compensation cases.


To begin a civil lawsuit, one party will need to file a complaint. The complaint includes all relevant details and factual allegations of the case and the type of compensation, action, or cessation of action the plaintiff desires from the defendant.

Cause of Action

This is the explanation that a complaint will detail regarding the reason(s) for filing a civil claim or lawsuit. For example, the cause of action could be a particular form of negligence or other wrongdoing, such as breach of contract, that causes harm or loss to the Plaintiff.


These refer to the specific types of losses incurred by the Plaintiff resulting from the defendant’s wrongdoing or “cause of action.” These can include economic and non-economic losses, such as medical expenses and pain and suffering resulting from negligence.

Admissible Evidence

This is evidence that Plaintiffs and defendants can legally use to prove their arguments in a civil lawsuit. There are many types of evidence that can come into play in civil cases, including medical records, police reports, communications and much more, depending on the nature of the case and the wrongdoing.

Breach of Contract

This is a claim saying that one party failed to adhere to the terms of a contract, which could be either the plaintiff or defendant in a case.

Breach of Duty

Many civil cases involve a breach of duty of care, which results when someone or an entity fails to take reasonable action to keep other parties safe from harm under certain circumstances. An example of breach of duty could involve a motorist who fails to follow basic traffic laws or blatantly ignores them, causing harm to other drivers or pedestrians. Medical professionals may also engage in a breach of duty of care if they fail to provide proper care to their patients after establishing a doctor-patient relationship.

Civil Litigation Examples

There are various types of civil litigation that can take place, depending on the specific circumstances involved. The following are a few examples of civil lawsuits:

Personal Injury Lawsuits

Civil cases often involve personal injury that one or more parties cause to others. Injuries could result from numerous incidents, including vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents, slip and fall accidents, animal bites, and others. Plaintiffs in these cases often sue for catastrophic damages that involve debilitating injuries or wrongful death.

In these cases, Plaintiffs would file a claim or suit against liable parties to recover monetary compensation for injuries and related damages resulting from the defendant’s wrongdoing.

Intellectual Property Disputes

Some civil cases could involve disputes around intellectual property (IP). For example, an artist might order a cease and desist from another party for the illegal usage or distribution of his or her copyrighted artwork.

Tenant and Landlord Disputes

Civil cases also frequently involve disputes between landlords and tenants revolving around payments or actions. An example of this could include a tenant suing a landlord in civil court over a wrongful eviction. In this case, the tenant might seek the reversal of the eviction order along with damages stemming from the wrongful eviction. Oftentimes this type of matter would be handled in Justice Court.

Construction Disputes

Civil litigation construction disputes can involve a number of different issues, including breach of contract claims and construction defect cases, for both residential and commercial properties.  For residential construction in Nevada, NRS Chapter 40 governs and very strict pre-litigation procedures must be followed so it is important to hire a construction defect attorney with experience.

There are many other potential incidents that could warrant a civil case. 

Damages in Civil Lawsuits

There are several potential damages involved in civil cases. These include three main types that could come into play in a claim or lawsuit:

Economic Damages

Economic damages, also known as special damages, refer to financial losses resulting from a defendant’s action or inaction.

There are many potential examples of economic damages in civil cases, such as:

  • Medical costs, including those spent on immediate and ongoing care
  • Lost income
  • Property damage
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation expenses
  • Loss of use
  • Legal costs

Non-Economic Damages

In addition to economic damages, non-economic damages or general damages may apply to your case. These are any non-financial losses resulting from the defendant’s wrongdoing, including physical pain experienced due to injuries, psychological trauma resulting from the overall experience, and loss of consortium for those who are unable to maintain a romantic relationship with their partners following an incident.

Punitive Damages

Rarely, civil cases result in the court or jury awarding punitive damages, which are separate from compensatory economic and non-economic damages. Only a judge or jury can award these in a trial setting with the goal of punishing defendants for egregious conduct. 

How Civil Litigation Works in Reno

If you’re wondering how the legal process works in civil cases, the following are the basic steps in Reno and other locations:

Consulting an Attorney

One of the best steps to take to build a civil case is to consult a civil litigation lawyer with experience handling cases similar to yours. An attorney may be able to represent you throughout your case and help you reach a fair settlement or judgment.


When moving forward with a case, the next step would involve your lawyer conducting an investigation into your case to determine liability and collect evidence supporting your case.  In some cases, litigation experts will be needed to help prove liability.


Proceeding with your case will involve pleadings, at which point the plaintiff and defendant will file pleadings that explain the details of the case and their arguments.

Once the defendant issues a response to the plaintiff’s pleading, or “complaint,” the case may move forward.

The Discovery Process

With the case ready to begin, the discovery process can start. This step entails both parties gathering as much information and evidence as they can to support their arguments in court, reviewing all documentation, and getting statements from witnesses and expert witnesses, including depositions.

Pre-Trial Process

Before going to court, the pre-trial process will give both sides a chance to negotiate a settlement or agreement. During this process, the case may either settle before going to court or continue into the trial process.

Trial Process

A judge or a jury will hear arguments from both sides of the case and make a decision based on all evidence presented. Sometimes civil cases will still reach a settlement before the trial process ends, effectively ending the case before the judge or jury can reach a verdict.

Understanding Civil Litigation

If you believe that you have a civil case, it’s important to understand what civil litigation is and how it works. With a deeper understanding of what civil cases involve and how they differ from criminal cases, you can determine which type of case to file in a claim or lawsuit against a potential defendant.

How Prior Material Breach of Contract Can Impact Your Case

While a party’s prior material breach of contract may serve as a complete defense to a breach of contract lawsuit, proving that the previous breach was material is crucial. A previous material breach of contract may excuse the other party’s future performance of his or her duties under the contract. When a party raises the defense of a prior material breach by the other party in a breach of contract action, the judge, jury, or arbitrator will determine whether the previous breach was material. If the previous breach is not raised correctly, the defense may fail.

Material versus Immaterial Breach

When two parties enter into a contract and one fails to perform his or her duties or obligations as outlined, that party has committed a breach of the contract. Some breaches are immaterial while others are material. A material breach is so severe that it irreparably breaks the contract and prevents the parties from continuing under its provisions. While damages may be recoverable in any type of breach, a material breach may also allow the other party to end its performance of its contractual duties and to terminate the contract. 

Prior Material Breach and Performance

Determining whether a breach of contract was material is important when a party bases its decision to stop performance on the breach. If the breach is not found to be material, the party that stopped performing its duties under the contract may be found to have committed a material breach of the contract himself or herself. The wrongful termination of a contract also ends the breaching party’s contractual rights and subjects him or her to a potential order to pay damages. 

A breach of contract that does not defeat the contract’s purpose is considered to be immaterial and may not trigger a party’s right to end his or her performance of the contractual duties. Before a party decides to stop performing under a contract, he or she may want to consult an attorney to determine whether the other party’s breach was material or immaterial. If the breach was something that could be remedied so that both parties could continue performing under the contract, it will not provide a basis for stopping performance. If a party stops performance and terminates the contract and is subsequently sued for breach of contract, he or she must raise the affirmative defense of prior material breach before it will be considered.  

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