Civil matters are different from criminal ones. We have outlined some of the major differences between the two legal routes.
The main purpose and intention of a civil lawsuit is to provide an individual remedy for the person who has been harmed. Criminal matters are different as they are considered crimes against society as a whole because they violate the Criminal Code of Canada. A person is found guilty of a crime in a criminal matter but not in a civil matter.
Generally speaking, there is no time limit when reporting a crime of sexual violence to the police. However, there is a time limit to sue another person. A limitation period sets out the maximum amount of time that can pass since the incident or incidents occurred and when a person can file a lawsuit. In Newfoundland and Labrador, that time limit is generally two years for matters related to harm or injury.
There are some situations where there can be a longer time limit, or none at all. This can include instances where a person is under the care of another person, organisation or agency and either financially, emotionally, physically, or in some other way dependent.on them. Another situation where a longer time limit might apply is if the person who has been harmed is a beneficiary or in a fiduciary relationship (legal or ethical guidance/protection over another person).
Some examples include teacher and student, priest and lay person, coach and athlete, guardian and guarded.
Understanding the rules around limitation periods can be complicated. Because there are situations where the 2 year limitation period may not apply, we suggest speaking with a lawyer for legal advice
Unlike criminal matters, the standard of proof in civil law is significantly lower. The working standard is that of a ‘balance of probabilities’. This means the plaintiff has the responsibility to prove it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the harm they suffered.
In criminal matters the standard of proof is much higher. The Crown Attorney must prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that a crime was committed by the defendant, and either the judge or jury must believe with almost absolute certainty the defendant is guilty of that crime.
In a criminal matter, the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty.
A class action lawsuit is when more than one person files as a group. This type of lawsuit is used when multiple people have been harmed by the defendant in a similar manner. Class action lawsuits are becoming increasingly common, especially in matters related to sexual abuse. The Canadian Bar Association maintains a Class Action Database, however the list is voluntary and only shows the result of lawsuits that have been submitted by lawyers.
Most civil matters settle before ever going to trial. In fact both parties can agree to settle at any point before, during, or even after a trial. This can sometimes be done between the plaintiff and the defendant, their lawyers, or through Settlement Conferences where a judge will give a brief opinion on how they think the case could be resolved.
In a civil trial the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is likely liable. Liable means someone is found to be legally responsible. The trial procedure in a civil matter is similar to a criminal trial. Both parties may call evidence and have an opportunity to cross-examine the other side. A judge will reach a verdict based on what is most probable, or most likely.
If the defendant is found not-liable, the case will be dismissed. However, if the defendant is found liable, a judge or jury will consider damages or other forms of compensation for the plaintiff.