In a previous article, I outlined what civil law was and discussed the different types of civil law. When a person brings a civil suit against an individual, group, or corporation, they seek monetary compensation for their injury rather than punishment or imprisonment. So what are the most common types of civil cases?
There are seven common types of civil cases, personal injury tort claims, contract disputes, equitable claims, class action suits, divorce and family law disputes, property disputes, and complaints against the city.
Types of Civil Cases
Personal Injury Tort Claims
A tort case is usually filed when a person is injured in some way, either intentionally or through negligence or failure to act. This type of crime causes physical and emotional harm.
Some common types of tort claims include:
- Assault: Intentionally making a person feel like they are in imminent danger of being harmed immediately. There needs to be reasonable apprehension of an offense, meaning the victim must “believe” that the other person’s actions will cause imminent harm. It does not necessarily have to include physical injury.
- Battery: Intentionally touching another person without their consent.
- Damage to a person’s property: Here, the damage doesn’t have to be intentional. It can also be accidental, as in the case of car accidents. Any type of property damage such as breaking, marring, or staining of property that has a certain value. It will depend upon the laws of your particular state as to what counts as property.
- Conversion of personal property: This involves a person intentionally taking another person’s private property and depriving the original owner of it or interfering with it in some way.
- Causing intentional emotional distress: In order to claim intentional emotional distress, two requirements have to be met. The person bringing the action to court, the plaintiff, will need to show that the defendant did something extreme and outrageous in a reckless way or with the intent to cause severe emotional harm, and; the plaintiff has to show that they experienced extreme emotional distress as a result of the actions of the defendant. There does not have to be any physical injury involved.
Contract disputes occur when one or more people who signed a contract do not or cannot fulfill their part of the agreement. There could be many reasons why this happened. It could be because the terms of the contract were poorly written. Or it could be for a personal reason.
Most of the time, one party is unable to complete the job they promised or fails to deliver the items they said they would provide. Another reason for breach of contract could be that the person who hired a contractor could not pay the total amount agreed upon for the job. Whatever the reason, one party cannot fulfill their obligations, so the courts must make sure the contract is fulfilled or the plaintiff is compensated.
Class Action Cases
In a class-action suit, the case is similar to a tort, but instead of just one person bringing a case against another, a group of people who have been harmed by the same person in a similar way is filing a claim together. It could be something such as a defective car part that caused similar accidents or a hazardous material that caused harm to many people before it was taken off the market.
Some of the more famous class-action suits are those such as the Tobacco Settlements between Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, and two other companies who were forced to pay $206 billion to the plaintiffs to cover medical costs. There’s also the Fen-Phen diet drug that paid $3.8 billion for distributing a drug that could cause a potentially fatal heart valve malfunction.
Another important class action case that began in the 19th century was way overdue. In 2011, a federal judge gave final approval for a $3.4 billion settlement to the Native Americans for the government’s mishandling of funds in land trusts accounts. The government had a practice of leasing out tribal lands for farming and mining and then giving the revenue to the Native Americans. However, they never gave the Native Americans what they were due.
In an equitable claim, a person asks the court to take action or stop an action performed by another person. Things such as a temporary restraining order or an injunction to halt an activity are equitable claims.
A Reason For a Temporary Injunction
As an example, a Texas daycare center sought a temporary injunction against neighbors Eamonn and Kara McSweeney for threatening the safety of the children. The McSweeneys had been complaining to the police about the loud noise coming from the daycare and wanted them gone.
The back of the McSweeney’s home faces the daycare playground, and an alley and a brick wall separate the two properties. Yet the daycare testified that the McSweeneys have been throwing dangerous trash such as screws, razors, sharp objects, and peanuts (to which children can be allergic) on the playground near their home. They have also found eggs thrown over the brick wall, which appears to be vandalism.
Though there is no evidence that the McSweeneys were throwing trash on the playground, it was evident that they held resentment against the daycare by their further actions of installing loudspeakers above their garage where they would blare talk radio toward the playground. And the signs they posted in their window that read, “Smile you’re on camera” and “Primrose pays better.” Primrose is a competing daycare.
The injunction, though temporary, prohibits the McSweeneys from communicating, interacting, or engaging with any children or staff at the center until the truth can be investigated further and the courts determine what type of action to take. They are also prohibited from taking any photos or videos of anyone on the premises, which they also had been accused of doing.
Divorce and Family Law Cases
Divorce and custody disputes are also common civil cases seen in court every day. The dissolution of a marriage, dividing the assets, child custody terms, and child support are all things you may need to bring to court if the two parties cannot reach a suitable agreement.
Property disputes involve neighbors who feel they have rights to the same piece of property or one person caused damage to another person’s property. This type of dispute can happen when one neighbor builds a structure on their property that, in some way, is crossing the line into their neighbor’s property.
Property disputes also arise between a landlord and tenant. If a landlord wants to evict a tenant that won’t leave, he may file a civil suit. Also, if a tenant moved and is struggling to get their deposit back from the landlord, the tenant may file a lawsuit against the landlord to have the deposit returned.
An Interesting Property Case Involving Ducks
Though this case didn’t originate in the United States, it is a good example of a civil case involving property disputes.
A man name Samuel Keeble was neighbors with Edmund Hickeringill. Keeble owned a piece of land he called Minott’s Meadow. It had a pond where he had a duck trap he manufactured to capture and sell wild fowl. He put tame ducks in the trap to lure in the wild ducks who would get caught in the net. Then he would sell these ducks for profit.
His neighbor, Kickeringill, found a way to deprive Keeble of his profit-making business. Hickeringill, while on his own property, would regularly shoot his firearms, which scared away the ducks that Keeble was trying to catch. Keeble took Kickeringill to court seeking damages for loss of profit to wild ducks. What needed to be decided was if Keeble had property rights to the wild animals that flew onto his property.
The courts sided with Keeble because Hickeringill was purposefully depriving him of a lawful profit and was awarded damages.
Cases Against the City
Generally, when someone has a complaint against a city or federal government, they can come to an agreement without going to court. However, there are instances where the government refuses to compensate for damages. In this case, the victim would hire an attorney and bring a suit against the city for harm done by the city in question or a city policy.
A popular case that was in the news happened on May 7, 1998, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The case was Schieber v. City of Philadelphia.
On the evening mentioned, Shannon Schieber was heard screaming for help by her neighbor, who called 911. When the officers arrived, they knocked repeatedly on the door and were met by silence. They saw that the balcony door to her apartment was closed, and the apartment was dark, so they concluded that no one was home and left.
The next day, Schieber’s brother went over to her apartment to visit his sister and found her inside dead. Schieber’s family brought a civil suit against the city of Philadelphia, asserting that their daughter’s civil rights were violated when the officers failed to investigate the screams further. They did not try to break down the door, nor did they call for assistance or inquire from a supervisor about what to do. Even though the officers were aware of a series of rapes that were occurring in the area, they decided to take no further action.
In this case, the judgment was found in favor of the police officers.
- Criminal Law vs. Civil Law: How are they Different?
- Family Law Explored – What are the Different Types of Family Law?
- When Should You Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
- Which Court Should You Bring a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
- Your Spouse Filed for Divorce – Now What?
Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.