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Civil Litigation

Civil litigation is a term used to describe lawsuits involving monetary claims arising from a  breach of contract,  deliberate wrongdoing (such as assault and libel) or negligence (such as professional malpractice or motor vehicle accidents).

Breach of Contract

A contract is an enforceable agreement between two or more parties.  It can be oral or written.  Contracts are so prevalent in modern society that we take them for granted.  A purchase of a cup of coffee is a contract.  Paying the neighbor’s child five dollars to shovel your driveway is a contract.  A partnership agreement is a contract.  Hiring an employee is a contract.  Paying for and downloading a song on iTunes is a contract.  Buying shares is a contract.

There are thousands of examples of contractual relationships which occur every day.

Most important contracts are negotiated, committed to writing and signed.  Contracts dealing with the sale and purchase of land have to be in writing to be enforceable.

When one of the parties to a contract doesn’t fulfill his/ her part of the bargain, the contract is breached.  The party adversely affected by the breach can sue the defaulting party for monetary damages and an order enforcing the terms of the contract.  Courts generally attempt to put the innocent party back into the same position he/she would have been had the contract not been breached.

Deliberate wrongdoing

An intentional act intended to harm another person is known as a “tort”.  When physical combat was more prevalent in our society, there were many more legal actions for intentional harmful acts such as assault.  If someone is attacked physically, they have a right to sue the person who assaulted them in addition to any remedy provided by the criminal justice system.  The right to sue for intentional harm still exists.  

Negligence

If someone does something he/she ought not to have done or doesn’t do something he/she should have done which causes financial or physical harm to a person or property, the person harmed can sue for monetary damages.  Typical examples are motor vehicle accidents caused by inappropriate driving, dangerous use of firearms or explosives, defective consumer products, damage to the environment, and professional malpractice.  The person harmed has the right to sue the person guilty of negligence for damages which will compensate the injured party.

Wrongful Dismissal

The term “wrongful dismissal” is really a misnomer. Every employer has the legal right to terminate any employee. The legal issue is whether the termination was for “just cause”. If an employer has good reason to terminate the employee, no money is owing to the terminated employee. In circumstances such as theft by the employee, willful disobedience or incompetence, no severance payment is owed by the employer to the employee because the law requires that the employee, as a term of the employment contract, be honest, accept reasonable orders from the employer, and perform assigned tasks competently.

If there is no just cause for dismissal, the employer must give the employee reasonable notice of termination, either a period of time to allow the employee to seek and obtain alternate equivalent employment or, alternatively, pay the employee salary and benefits equivalent to the amount the employee would earn during the period of notice.  For example, if an employee earning $50,000.00 per year worked for the employer diligently and competently for six years, it would be appropriate for the employer to give employee approximately six months written notice of the intended termination or pay the employee $25,000.00 less applicable statutory deductions which would compensate the employee for the six months’ notice.

CAUTION: It is impossible to generalize specific termination payments to terminated employees because each case is factually different. Legal advice is highly recommended to determine appropriate periods of notice and settlement amounts. An employee has two years to commence litigation following termination.