The Ins and Outs of Civil Litigation: A Comprehensive Guide

Over 160,000 civil cases are initiated in Ontario every year. That’s because civil litigation is one of the primary ways for people to resolve civil disputes. These can be anything from contractual disputes involving businesses to competing claims over property after a person’s death.

In a previous article, we outlined the litigation process step-by-step, as well as the role civil litigation attorneys play. In this article, we’ll explain how long civil litigation can take, how your matter may be resolved, when you should approach a civil litigation lawyer, and more.

How Long Does Civil Litigation Take?

Civil cases are governed by Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure. These outline the pre-trial and trial processes, mediation, and more. They also prescribe, to an extent, timeframes for the case. That said, every matter is unique, which is why timelines can vary. It may follow the Simplified Procedure depending on the value of the case too. Finally, the legal strategy civil litigation lawyers near you follow can impact how long it takes to resolve.

Depending on the nature of the case, the complexity of issues, and the willingness of parties to settle, a civil case may be settled in a few weeks or can take up to a few years to be decided by the courts. For a representative timeline of your case and your options, speak to a lawyer.

Very broadly, the plaintiff – the party bringing the suit – must file their claim and wait for the defense to respond. After that, both parties exchange evidence, witness lists, and documents relevant to the matter.

It’s possible the case may be settled after this stage. If not, it will be referred to mediation, which is a second chance for the matter to be resolved without going to trial. If the matter cannot be resolved, it will then be heard by the courts.

Settling and mediation are two of the most efficient ways of resolving matters. If, however, the matter cannot be resolved, it can take years to go to trial. Some cases, such as family disputes, can take up to five years before they are heard by the courts. Fret not, your civil litigation lawyers can bring motions before the court to safeguard your interests in the meantime.

How Can Your Case Be Decided?

There are several ways for a case to be decided:

  • Settlement – The parties of the case negotiate and reach a compromise that resolves the dispute without having to go to trial. This is often the most cost and time-efficient way of resolving disputes.
  • Mediation – Mediation is a mandatory procedure under Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure and is a form of alternative dispute resolution. A mediator sits with parties to the suit to simplify the suit or resolve it before trial.
  • Arbitration – This is another form of alternate dispute resolution. Here, an arbitrator, who is appointed by mutual agreement by the parties, hears the case as a judge would. Arbitration can lead to a binding decision, like that of a court. Arbitration is commonly used in commercial settings, such as to resolve financial and contractual disputes between businesses.
  • Default Proceedings – The plaintiff can ask for a default judgment if the defendant does not respond to the claim. This can be obtained without informing or giving notice to the defendant.
  • Summary Judgment – Either the plaintiff or defendant can bring a motion for a summary judgment. A summary judgment can be granted on part or the entirety of the suit.
  • Trial – The matter is heard by the courts, civil litigation attorneys make oral arguments on behalf of their clients, present expert testimony, and other evidence supporting their case.

When Should You Approach a Civil Litigation Lawyer?

Knowing when to approach a civil lawyer is crucial for protecting your interests and asserting your rights. Ontario has strict limitation periods, which means you should approach a lawyer as soon as you receive legal notice or feel you have a case.

Here are some instances when you should approach a civil litigation lawyer near you:

  • If you have received a notice of claim – This means you have been sued, and you need to respond with a statement of defense. Your lawyers will need time to understand your case, gather evidence, and respond to the notice.
  • You are considering legal action – If you feel your rights have been or are being infringed, you need to discuss the matter with experienced lawyers.
  • Obtaining legal advice – If you aren’t certain about your rights and obligations, a consultation can help clarify your position. Lawyers can advise if you are being treated unfairly, what your rights are, and how you safeguard your interests.

Planning on Meeting a Civil Litigation Lawyer Near You? Here’s What to Bring

To make the most of your initial meeting with your lawyers, there are a few things you should bring to assist the process. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and what you can bring will depend on the case itself, here are a few things to have with you:

  • A clear explanation of the dispute and its background
  • Paperwork, documents, emails, and messages relating to the dispute
  • Timeline of events that includes significant events
  • Any financial documents related to the dispute
  • Any legal communication you have received, such as the statement of claim
  • Personal identification documents that the law firm may request
  • Questionnaire your lawyer may ask you to fill out before you visit
  • A clear idea of your ideal outcomes
  • Questions you have for your lawyer

Experience Matters in Civil Litigation

Resolving disputes favourably and cost-effectively requires carefully thought-out legal strategies. The resources your lawyers can bring also influence the options that are available to you, which is why choosing an experienced legal team is critical.

At Lancaster Chown & Welch LLP, we have been the go-to civil lawyers in St. Catharines and the Niagara region for over 140 years. Schedule a complimentary initial consultation with an experienced lawyer to discuss your needs. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we’ll help put your matter to rest.