What is the Litigation System?

Alexis W.
Alexis W.
Courts provide a place for people to settle disputes.
Courts provide a place for people to settle disputes.

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.

Discussion Comments


@strawCake - Obviously solving problems through arbitration instead of going to court would be great. But who would provide this arbitration? The state? The two parties involved in the case? I think your solution needs to be thought out a little bit more.

I actually think it's kind of unfair that a person can't be sent to jail through the civil litigation system. Some of the negligent behavior that results in court cases is criminal, too. It would be great if both cases could be settled at the same time.


I personally think it's great when cases are settled out of court. Our court system is so clogged up with cases, if we could stop some of them from getting there I think that would be desirable.

I know that sometimes people just can't resolve their disputes, which is why we need the litigation system in the first place. However, I think that everyone should be obligated to at least try arbitration before proceeding with a court case. The case should only go to court if the two parties absolutely can't work it out during arbitration.


@ElizaBennett - I know that litigation in the civil courts can look bad, and obviously sometimes things go too far. But to me, having a civil courts system is *part of* people being responsible for their actions.

The guy who sued about the pants? His case was dismissed, he had to pay legal charges for the cleaners, the judge had some pretty strong words for him, and he lost his job. The media made that into a much bigger thing than it really was.

The McDonald's woman? She had third-degree burns and required skin grafts. She just wanted her medical bills covered, but the company refused. The jury punished McDonald's (a few days coffee profits, minus a certain percent because they did think it was partly the woman's fault) by taking their money.

Definitely there are abuses. But without litigation, there would be no way to hold people responsible for negligence, and no way for victims to even get their economic damages covered.


Litigation, frivolous suits - when did we get to be a country that thought the way to solve everything was to sue? You hear about such ridiculous cases, like the guy who sued a dry cleaner for millions of dollars because they ruined his pants and they had a "satisfaction guarantee."

Or that woman at McDonald's who won millions of dollars because she spilled hot coffee on herself! Should being the victim of an accident really set you up for life?

Whatever happened to people being responsible for their own actions? Not everything that goes wrong needs to result in a lawsuit. And don't even get me started on medical malpractice.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Courts provide a place for people to settle disputes.
      By: JohnKwan
      Courts provide a place for people to settle disputes.