Cooper & Elliott Blog

The Boundaries of Civil Litigation: What Attorneys Can and Can’t Do

Posted on Thu, Mar 8, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

All civil litigation starts with a victim, one who has suffered due to another’s misjudgment, malice, or negligence. It’s the job of civil litigation attorneys to facilitate the victim’s healing, physically and emotionally, through compensation, which may or may not involve a monetary settlement.

Due to certain limitations of the legal system, there are some things civil litigation attorneys can’t do to achieve compensation for the clients they represent. When people come to us as victims of a wrongful death or personal injury, they don’t necessarily know or care about such restrictions. They simply want justice. And of course, we do all we can to help them achieve the justice they deserve.

Here, then, is a quick overview of what Ohio civil litigation attorneys can do for their clients, as well as some limits to our advocacy.

Civil litigation versus criminal prosecution

Many times, clients come to us with the belief that what was done to them was a criminal act. That may in fact have been the case, but civil litigation attorneys cannot bring criminal charges against anyone. Only a public prosecutor can do that.

If clients believe that a crime has been committed, the proper path for justice is to report the incident to the police and then let the criminal justice system follow its process of investigating, indicting, and prosecuting the offenders.

Civil litigation attorneys have no direct role in that process, but there is something we can do (and have done): We can support our clients through the criminal process. If clients need support while they’re attending a criminal trial, or simply would like us to serve as a liaison between them and police investigators or the prosecutor’s office, we’re there for them.

Lawyers are not physicians

Though we regularly interact with medical professionals, we’re not doctors. We can’t make medical decisions for our clients. Any decisions regarding medical care must be between our clients and their medical providers.

But again, we can support our clients and answer questions regarding who should be guiding those medical decisions. And we can provide a valuable legal perspective, by sitting in on meetings or phone calls with physicians while also providing emotional and communications support. This gives our clients added confidence to make the right decisions—not just for the case at hand, but for the sake of their long-term well-being.

Courts can’t compel an apology

It’s not unusual for clients to want an apology from the defendants who have victimized them. Such requests are understandable as an important step for achieving closure. However, the civil justice system—and civil litigation attorneys, by extension—cannot compel a defendant to issue a formal apology to the victim. In court, even though we can prove to a jury that the defendant committed wrongdoing or negligence and win the case for the client, defendants can still maintain their innocence and simply disagree with the jury’s decision.

One way around that limitation is to agree on a settlement, which avoids a jury trial. With a settlement, we have more flexibility and can negotiate to include conditions such as a formal apology or admission of wrongdoing, as well as other potential conditions that are in the best interest of the client but not possible through a trial.

Helping victims of personal injury, wrongful death, and negligence

Victims of wrongful death or personal injury come to us distraught and uncertain. They face a long and difficult recovery process. And they don’t necessarily know what we can do for them or even, sometimes, what they really want.

It’s our job to listen carefully to their needs, to understand their situation, and to guide them through their legal options. Once they truly understand what can and can’t be done, then it’s time for us to do what we do best: represent them zealously, and with compassion.

If you find yourself in a situation that involves personal injury or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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