What is Civil Litigation?

When I was growing up, the kids in our elementary school would resolve their disputes by going to the local cemetery to duke it out. The cemetery was close enough to the school to make it worth the trip for spectators, yet far enough away to be outside of the teacher’s purview. Some adults still resolve their disputes this way, meeting at the “cemetery” to settle the score. In elementary, we called it a “fight, fight, fight.” As adults, we call it “assault,” a criminal offence.

Disputes are bound to happen. In life we are rear-ended, divorced, slandered, bullied, booted out of the company and left out of the Will. We also offend (necessarily, of course). We dispute bad deals, we refuse to pay for terrible craftsmanship, we build our fences on the wrong side of the property line.

And when problems arise, what do we want? We want justice, vindication, remediation. We want to explain why we did what we did. We want an answer.

Enter Civil Litigation, also known as the lawsuit, the civil claim, the tort, a civil dispute, a legal action, a cause of action, a court case.

Our Civil Litigation process has developed over centuries, having had the most superior minds thinking and rethinking and re-rethinking questions of morality, fairness, commerce, liberty, and the common good. It’s an incredibly sophisticated system, but it doesn’t always get to the “right” answer (at least how we might see it.)

Its sophistication may also be a barrier to the “right” answer. In order to operate successfully within the system, you’ve got to understand it. You’ve got to know statutory law and court-made law. You’ve got to know what to claim and how to claim it. You’ve got to know your legal defences (excuses are inadequate). You’ve got to know documents, deadlines, and evidence. You need to investigate, research, listen, review, write and orate. You need to bring in experts to assist and testify. You have got to know how to ask good questions, the right question. Most of all, you’ve got to know how to assess the risk and count the cost.

Did you know that less than 5% of all lawsuits filed at Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench make it to trial?

It’s certainly not because countless civilized individuals decide to “settle the score” outside of the courtroom. Rather, it’s because we problem-solving human beings learn, in the midst of crisis, that we have options.

This is why much litigation takes place as conversation with advocates, mediators, arbitrators, and judges. It takes place around conference tables in negotiations amongst lawyers and clients. It takes place on whiteboards and scratch pads, letters and emails, phone calls and texts, draft agreements and consent orders as disputants and their respective lawyers etch out viable solutions to disputes.

And, at the end of it all, if the dispute has not been resolved, there is our adult-life ‘principal’,  the courthouse judge, who will make the final call about who is right and who is wrong, who should pay and who should be paid. This is how disputes are resolved the civilized way.

NOTICE TO READER: The summaries of legal rights and remedies described above are general references to the Alberta laws existing at the date of the publication and may not apply to the reader’s individual circumstances. Also, the laws may change. These legal summaries are not to be relied upon as applicable to your individual circumstances and are subject to a complete review of the facts and applicable laws in every case.