• James Notaris

    CPA, ESQ. Legal Editor

  • Steve Longo

    Executive Editor

    In Brief:

  • Civil cases go to court for a number of reasons. 

  • They typically involve one party suing another to recover damages.

  • Find some examples of civil cases in the U.S. here!

Civil cases come from a wide variety of situations. They differ from criminal cases in that criminal laws aren’t broken – instead, they deal with disputes between individuals or organizations, with monetary compensation typically being awarded to the victim if the defendant is ultimately found guilty. 

But what exactly leads to these civil cases ending up in court? We take a closer look at some types of civil cases below to help you better understand how civil litigation works in the United States!

Civil Case Examples

Individuals, organizations, and businesses involved in lawsuits fall under civil law cases. In civil cases in the U.S., the person suing is known as the plaintiff while the person being sued is called the defendant. People typically sue to make up for some sort of loss or injury they’ve suffered. Unlike criminal cases, civil cases don’t result in prison time. 

A few examples of civil cases include:

  • A worker sues their employer for monetary damages after hurting their back at work and being unable to work again
  • A person hurt in a car accident sues the other driver to recoup costs from their car repair and medical bills
  • A person sues a doctor who fails to detect a life-threatening health issue like lung cancer
  • A homeowner sues a contractor who did shoddy work on a bathroom renovation that ultimately cost them more money to fix
  • A person sues for monetary damages after falling on ice on city property and requiring surgery on their knee

In all of these examples of civil cases, a person who believes they were wronged subsequently sued to recover damages, usually in the form of monetary compensation. In the real world, this is how most civil cases play out.

World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson

One of the more interesting and unique civil cases was World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, a 1980 case that involved personal injury, manufacturer liability, state legal jurisdictions, and other factors. 

In 1977, Harry and Kay Robinson, along with their two children, were driving from New York to their new home in Arizona in their 1976 Audi 100 LS car. While passing through Oklahoma, their vehicle was struck from behind by a drunk driver. The crash punctured the car’s gas tank and caused its doors to jam shut, resulting in serious burns for Kay and her two children. 

Instead of suing the drunk driver, who had no insurance or assets, they pressed charges against Audi, claiming that their car suffered from a product defect that left its gas tank vulnerable to combustion from vehicle-to-vehicle impacts from behind. 

Although the lower courts decided that the state of Oklahoma had jurisdiction over World-Wide Volkswagen and the dealership in New York from where the Robinsons purchased their vehicle from, the Supreme Court ultimately reversed this decision in 1980. Subsequent litigation in the United States District Court for the District of Northern Oklahoma saw a jury side with the car company, believing that the speed of the drunk driver’s vehicle was the main cause of the fire as opposed to the design of the car itself. 

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