Civil Court

What happens when you take someone to civil court.

The Procedures of going to Civil Court . . .

Hey everyone. This brochure has some tips on things to do when you go to civil court and what happens in civil court. I hope that you enjoy this and hope to hear from you soon.


1.) Take paperwork you receive very seriously-- Read everything you receive regarding your case thoroughly. NEVER ignore documents you receive: you must take action. For example, if you are being sued, you will have to file an answer, which is a response to the complaint, by the court- imposed deadline to avoid a default judgment (losing due to a failure to respond or show up to court.)

2.) How do I know if I’m in the right court? -- You cannot sue someone in whatever court you feel like. You can only bring a case against someone in the judicial district where that individual lives or where the event, transaction, or occurrence that you are suing over happened.

There are sixty judicial districts in Pennsylvania. The judicial districts generally follow the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties, except that seven judicial districts each cover two counties.

3.) Does it cost anything to file a case, and if so, how do I make payments to the court? -- Filing a court case is not free. You have to pay filing and service fees to the court, unless you can prove that you cannot afford to do so. If because of your economic circumstances you are unable to pay filing fees and court costs, you might be permitted to have them waived in forma pauperis (a Latin expression that literally means “in the manner of a poor person”).

4.) Going to court can be stressful. You will have to gather together the paperwork yourself. There will be court forms to fill in and you will have to meet deadlines. Think about how you will handle this and whether you might need help. The small claims process is supposed to be simple enough for you to manage without the help of a solicitor. There shouldn't be lots of witnesses to call or difficult points of law to understand.

5.) Will the trader be able to pay you if you win? -- Even if you win your case, a trader might refuse or not be able to pay you. If this happens, you will either have to take further court action to get your money back or accept that you won't be able to recover your losses.

6.) Can you afford to go to court? -- Going to court can be costly so think about whether it's worth it before you start.

7.) Are you prepared to go to court? -- The civil court which deals with consumer claims is split into three tracks depending on how much you're claiming.



In order to have a civil case you have to have different people and things. A plaintiff, which is a person who brings a case against another in a court of law. A defendant, which is an individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law. A complaint, the pleading that initiates a civil action; in criminal Law, the document that sets forth the basis upon which a person is to be charged with an offense. A summons is the paper that tells a defendant that he or she is being sued and asserts the power of the court to hear and determine the case. It is a form of legal process that commands the defendant to appear before the court on a specific day and to answer the complaint made by the plaintiff. Pleading is a formal statement of the cause of an action or defense. Pretrial conference, a conference held before the trial begins to bring the parties together to outline discovery proceedings and to define the issues to be tried; more useful in civil than in criminal cases. Mediation is an intervention in a dispute in order to resolve it; arbitration. Trial is a formal examination of evidence before a judge, and typically before a jury, in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings, "the newspaper accounts of the trial.” Preponderance of evidence, the greater weight of the evidence required in a civil (non-criminal) lawsuit for the trier of fact (jury or judge without a jury) to decide in favor of one side or the other. Verdict is a decision on a disputed issue in a civil or criminal case or an inquest. Appeal is where you apply to a higher court for a reversal of the decision of a lower court.

A civil lawsuit involves disputes between private individuals and/or organizations. The facts of the dispute could involve a contract, a lease, a physical injury experienced by an individual, a divorce, or many other issues. Nonetheless, all disputes or unresolved conflicts between individuals and ultimately may be solved through civil litigation. Generally, the result desired by the person filing the lawsuit is to be compensated for damages. An alternative result is to have the court order another person to begin or stop some activity.

A civil lawsuit is started by the filing of a complaint which details the facts of the situation as seen by the plaintiff, the person desiring the court's assistance. A filing fee is collected by the deputy clerk at the time of the filing of the complaint. Once a complaint and summons have been filed with the court, these documents must be delivered to the opposing party, known as the defendant. The defendant then has twenty days to respond in writing to the complaint.

The response that the defendant files with the court is known as an answer. Again, the court clerk will collect a set fee for the filing of the answer. The defendant may, at some time, file a counterclaim as part the answer. The counterclaim sets out the facts of any relief that the defendant feels he/she may be entitled to from the plaintiff. The plaintiff then has ten days to file an answer to the defendant's counterclaim.

If either party fails to comply with the time limits, the other side may ask the court to rule in his/her favor by default. Default is entered when a party does not appear or file papers and the judge may enter a decision or judgment to be collected as any other decision. It should be noted that most time limits may be extended by agreement (stipulation) of the parties and order by the court.

Upon completion of the filing of the various documents as previously described, there is usually a period of time for discovery. This is an intermediate period during which either side may require the other to answer written questions (interrogatories), give sworn testimony under oath (depositions), provide copies of documents that relate to the case, request for production of documents, and several other things that will assist the lawyers in their presentations. The discovery process can be extremely lengthy and complicated.

From the beginning of the dispute, the parties may have been negotiating in hopes of finding a solution. The negotiation may continue throughout the life span of the lawsuit. However, if negotiations have so far been unsuccessful and all discoveries have been completed, either side may make various motions to the court. These motions are simply requests that the court decides certain preliminary matters prior to trial. An additional step at this point is the pretrial hearing at which time the lawyers representing both sides of the case, or the parties themselves if they have chosen not to be represented by an attorney, meet with the judge to try and simplify the factual and legal issues as much as possible prior to trial. Often, the judge may be able to assist the parties to come to a mutually agreeable decision at the pretrial hearing.

If all negotiations prior to and during the pretrial hearing have been unsuccessful, the matter will then go before the court in a formal trial. The conduct of the trial is discussed more thoroughly in Anatomy of a Trial.