The term "civil litigation" applies to cases in which one party (the "plaintiff') brings a lawsuit against another party (the "defendant"). Civil litigation also encompasses family law matters such as divorce, custody and support. A civil lawsuit is generally funded by the person bringing the suit, unless the law allows the plaintiff to recover attorney’s fees and/or costs from the defendant. If a frivolous suit or defense is brought by a party, they can be made to pay attorney's fees and costs.
In order to bring a civil suit, the plaintiff must have a "cause of action," or a legal basis for bringing the action. The plaintiff must allege that the defendant (or defendants if there are a number of different people being sued by the plaintiff) acted, or failed to act, in such a way that violates some rule of law. Civil litigation is different from criminal law in that the plaintiff in a civil suit is a private party as opposed to the state. Likewise, a party (normally) cannot be jailed if they lose in a civil suit.
Important issues arise when a person or entity wishes to bring a civil suit against another person or entity. Issues of subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, venue, et cetera, come into play when formulating a trial strategy. The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure apply to most civil cases brought in the state courts of Pennsylvania. The Rules do not apply in Federal Courts.
One of the most important aspects of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure is the ability of both parties to utilize what is termed "discovery." Discovery is when either or both parties to a civil suit require that the other party provide information about anything relevant about the suit. Such discovery comes in the form of interrogatories, requests for admission, notices to produce documents and other tangible things, depositions (which is a formal interview that is taken down on record under oath), and requests for the production of documents and other tangible things. The parties can even make non-party witnesses submit to discovery regarding a lawsuit.
In addition to the discovery rules of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, there are many rules regarding deadlines, motions, and other very important rights and obligations of the parties to the suit. In most cases, either party can have their case tried before a jury if they so choose. Because the rules involved in a civil lawsuit are so complex, anyone involved in a civil suit, either as a plaintiff or as a defendant, should retain an attorney at the earliest possible moment so that they can preserve their rights.