Civil Litigation Attorneys in Columbia, MD
What You Should Know About Civil Litigation in Maryland
The term "civil litigation" gets thrown around so much it can be difficult to understand what it really means. Civil litigations happen when two or more parties are involved in a legal dispute that doesn't involve criminal charges. Legal disputes that do involve criminal charges fall under criminal litigation. Common civil litigations include personal injury cases, malpractice lawsuits, and divorce lawsuits.
At Ward & Co Law, our experienced, compassionate lawyers work with clients to help resolve a variety of civil litigation cases. Understanding how civil litigation works in Maryland can help you navigate your case successfully.
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If you're not well-versed in legal matters, understanding where to draw the line between civil and criminal litigation matters. Here are a few common types of civil litigation cases:
- Divorce (and other family law) disputes. Since family law disputes typically don't involve criminal charges (with the exception of certain matters such as domestic violence cases), many family law cases are civil litigation cases.
- Real estate litigation. Real estate litigation involves cases such as property division or monetary disputes that involve real estate (evictions, debt, etc.).
- Contract litigation and breaches of contract. Any time a formal contract is breached in such a way that no criminal charges are filed, it's a civil litigation case.
- Business torts. "Torts" are wrongful or violating acts that lead to civil legal liability, such as a business owner engaging in fraud.
- Business law. Business law civil litigation cases involve a variety of disputes, such as unsatisfied employees, partners who disagree on how the business should run, etc.
- Personal injury lawsuits. When an individual files a claim as part of a personal injury suit, it's a civil litigation case.
- Business dissolutions. The legal process of dissolving a business often results in a civil litigation case.
These are just a few of the many legal disputes categorized as civil litigation cases. An attorney can help you understand if and why your personal legal dispute qualifies as a civil litigation case.
How Civil Litigation Works in Maryland
Filing a civil litigation case in Maryland is a multi-step process. Here are all the steps you'll need to complete to file a civil litigation case in Maryland:
- Write and file a complaint. If you want to file a civil litigation case, you need to write and file a formal complaint with a court. You should have an attorney at your side to advise you as you write and file the complaint. You'll need to include the following matters in your complaint:
- What type of relief you're seeking. For example, do you simply want a contract like a child custody arrangement to be altered, or are you seeking monetary compensation? Different legal cases result in various types of relief, so having an attorney who can walk you through this step is vital.
- Which court will hear your case. Cases worth less than $5,000 are filed in District Court. Cases worth more are filed in the Circuit Court where the defendant (the person you're seeking legal action against) resides. Certain cases, like bankruptcy cases, are heard by different courts not affiliated with Maryland state. Again, a lawyer can help you file your case with the right court in the proper location.
- A comprehensive overview of your case. Your complaint needs to include all relevant information about your case, such as why you're filing, who you're seeking action against, who you are, and what you want from the case. You should never include personally identifying information such as your Social Security number in your complaint.
- Once the complaint is written, you need to file it with the appropriate court. You might also need to pay a filing fee depending on your case (Maryland District Courts have uniform filing fees, but fees differ for Circuit Courts).
- After filing the complaint, you need to notify the defendant of your civil litigation case. The court you file with will issue a "Writ of Summons" that must then be served to the defendant by a specific date. NOTE: SOMEONE OTHER THAN YOU MUST SERVE THE DEFENDANT. Your attorney can help you find a third party to serve the defendant. There are a few ways you can serve a defendant a writ of summons:
- Certified mail. If the defendant receives the mailed writ and mails back a return receipt, the writ is considered served. If the defendant does not receive the mail or mail back a return receipt, the writ is not considered served.
- Private process server. A third party can hand deliver the writ of summons to the defendant. The server will sign an Affidavit of Service stating the writ was served.
- Sheriff or Constable. County sheriffs are responsible for serving defendants in civil cases. Once a sheriff serves a defendant, they return a copy of the writ to the court verifying the defendant has been served.
- After serving the defendant, you need to provide the court with Proof of Service. Depending on the method of service you use, your Proof of Service will look different.
Once the defendant is served, they'll file a Notice of Intention to Defend. The plaintiff is notified when the Notice is filed.
If the defendant ignores a writ of summons and does not file a Notice of Intention to Defend within 15 days of being served, they may automatically lose the case (this is called a default judgment). The defendant can also choose to settle the case out of court. If the defendant does not settle the case out of court, court proceedings will continue, and the appropriate court will oversee the case.
It's important to note that defendants don't have to simply accept a plaintiff's service and show up in court to defend their case. There are several additional actions defendants can take:
- They can file a counterclaim, cross-claim, or a third-party complaint. In counterclaims, the defendant also files a suit against the plaintiff. Cross-claims occur when the defendant files a suit against another participant in the case (such as another defendant). Third-party complaints are filed when the defendant brings another party (a third party) into the case as a result of the plaintiff's case.
- They can file a motion to transfer the case to a Circuit Court. If the defendant wants the case to go to a trial by jury, they can request the case be transferred to a Circuit Court.
- They can file a motion to dismiss the case. If the defendant believes the litigation is frivolous or the claim was filed wrongfully (such as in the wrong county), they can file to dismiss the case entirely.
- They can claim the plaintiff failed to serve them correctly. If the defendant believes they were served improperly, they can submit a pre-trial request during preliminary court proceedings, forcing the plaintiff to serve them again.
Motions can be filed in addition to counterclaims, cross-claims, and third-party complaints. So, a defendant could file a counterclaim and a motion to dismiss at the same time with their Notice of Intention to Defend.
There you have it! Everything you need to know about how civil litigation cases are filed and processed in Maryland. If you're the plaintiff or defendant in a civil litigation case, an attorney can help you understand your case and navigate it successfully.
Contact an Experienced Maryland Attorney Today
Civil litigation cases are complex legal disputes best undertaken with a lawyer at your side. At Ward & Co Law, our Columbia-based attorneys can help streamline the process of filing and resolving a civil litigation case. To learn more, contact us online or via phone at (410) 775-5955.