This article discusses the basics of "civil" litigation in Oregon courts.
In order to define a "civil" case, it is probably easier to explain what it is not. A "civil" case is anything other than a criminal case. Criminal cases are generally filed by the District Attorney, who represents the people of the State of Oregon. Just about every other kind of case filed in the State courts is referred to as a civil case.
Generally, civil claims are filed by individuals or private companies. There are several different kinds of civil claims, but the two basic categories include contract disputes and "torts." "Torts" are best described as civil wrongs. In other words, the party bringing the claim is making an allegation that somebody acted wrongfully, but not necessarily criminally. There are some tort claims where the behavior giving rise to the claim is in fact criminal. However, the party filing the civil case is not seeking a criminal penalty, but instead some form of compensation. Other kinds of civil cases include probate of estates, and dissolution of marriage petitions.
Another example of a civil case is a small claims court case. Generally, in the small claims court, attorneys are not involved. The several “judge” shows on the daytime television schedule are good examples of the small claims court system. Generally, these cases fall below a certain monetary value, and what you see on TV is fairly close to what actually happens in small claims courts every day.
Let’s stick with the tort cases. To break it down even further, there are several different kinds of tort claims. This series of articles focuses on the tort of negligence that result in personal injury. Other kinds of tort claims include defamation, also referred to as libel and slander, or interference with contractual relations. Sometimes, the tort claim is provided for under a statute. For example, many employment discrimination cases are a form of what is called a "statutory tort.
In any event, these cases start with the filing of paperwork in court, usually called a "petition," or a "complaint." In the complaint or the petition, the party bringing the claim must make allegations of “ultimate facts,” that if proven, result in a valid claim. In other words, the court will look at the allegations in the paperwork filed with the court, and assuming that everything can be proven, and is in fact true, there must be some remedy or justice that can be obtained as result of the facts alleged in the complaint.