Along the ridge board, some of the rafters had pulled away.

As a construction professional, you have probably heard the term “civil litigation.” With the large number of players involved in building projects—including developers/owners, designers, contractors, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, suppliers, and more—it is nearly impossible to avoid a legal dispute at some point in your career. When two parties just cannot come to terms, they are likely to end up in civil litigation. And with so many parties involved, even the most simple building project can quickly become “complex litigation” (see sidebar “From Bad to Worse: A Common Example of How Construction Litigation Emerges,” page 15).

Over the last 30 years, I have worked on thousands of litigated projects as a contracting and estimating expert witness. But I am not a lawyer, and a little knowledge is dangerous. For most lawyers, though, their depth of knowledge can actually make it difficult for them to explain the process simply. So, I worked with some lawyer friends to write this plain-language “map of the terrain” of civil litigation for non-lawyers who need to understand the process to help make smart business decisions.

Put simply, civil litigation is any noncriminal dispute resolved by a lawsuit using the court system. These cases are commonly settled before they reach the courtroom, but I will walk you through the entire process.

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