The litigation system refers to the civil court system in the United States and many other countries. It is distinct from the criminal court system in that it allows private parties to make use of the courts to resolve private disputes. Tort law and contract law each fall within the purview of the litigation system.
In most developed countries, courts provide a place for people to come and settle disputes. For example, if one person's neighbor wants to cut down a tree that the other neighbor does not want, the neighbor can go to court to have a judge or jury resolve the dispute. Likewise, if one person injures someone else either intentionally or with his negligence or carelessness, the person who was injured can make use of the court system to try to recover damages caused by the perpetrator of his injuries.
The litigation system allows for these disputes to be resolved. It is different from a criminal system, in which only a prosecutor or officer of the court can file a lawsuit. It is also different from other methods of dispute resolution, such as arbitration, in which parties go before an arbitrator and have the arbitrator resolve the dispute.
Because of litigation, a plaintiff who is wronged can file a lawsuit as long as he has some degree of evidence or a reasonable belief that he has suffered an actionable wrong. The defendant then has an opportunity to come to the courtroom and speak up on his own behalf against the accusation. A judge or a jury then assesses appropriate penalties. Penalties for civil litigation are primarily monetary in nature, although in some cases — such as if a judge issues an injunction precluding someone from doing a given behavior — the remedies can compel or prevent certain behaviors. A person cannot be sent to jail, however, solely as the result of a case in the civil litigation system.
Many cases in the civil litigation system are resolved in settlements before the case goes to court. The defendant will often make an offer to the plaintiff of a monetary settlement in exchange for not having to actually litigate the dispute in court, since this can allow the defendant to control his risk. Even if the plaintiff accepts the settlement and the case never goes to court, it was still considered to have been in the litigation system as soon as the plaintiff filed the papers starting the civil lawsuit.