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Four Types of Civil Relief When Filing a Lawsuit

When you’re thinking about legal action, one of the main considerations is: “What can I expect to gain?” The remedies generally depend on:

  • The nature of the claim,
  • How much harm you suffered,
  • The defendant’s conduct, and
  • The court itself.

Briefly, there are four types of civil relief available if your rights have been violated:

1. Financial damages. Money damages are available for the loss of property rights and for violations of civil rights. An award may be made to compensate you for the loss or — in less frequent circumstances — to punish the defendant. Damages may include attorneys’ fees.

2. Restitution. This involves an award of money, status or other value given to prevent the unjust enrichment of the defendant. It should be noted that restitution does not equal the plaintiff’s losses but the defendant’s gain.

3. Equitable relief. Often called injunctions, equitable relief typically forces a defendant to stop engaging in some activity that violates your civil rights. In some cases, coercive remedies may be used to force a defendant to take action, such as completing a sale of real estate. This is referred to as the remedy of “specific performance.”

There are several types of injunctions or restraining orders. With a preliminary or temporary injunction, you must establish a clear right to relief and the risk of irreparable harm if an injunction isn’t issued. Irreparable harm is deemed to be a type of injury for which money damages cannot make the plaintiff whole.

For example, let’s say a popular recording star is booked for a concert and a copyright pirate shows up to sell bootleg T-shirts and CDs. An immediate court order is required to protect the recording artist from infringement. If prior notification could result in the destruction of evidence, a court can grant a temporary restraining order without requiring notification. This is referred to as ex parte relief.

4. Declaratory remedy. This is an official and authoritative determination on a disputed question. For example, if you are accused of breaking a contract, you can ask for a declaratory judgment, where the court will set forth the respective rights of both parties and determine whether in fact a breach of contract occurred.

By understanding the remedies available, you can make a more informed decision on whether you should sue and what you can expect from the courts in the form of relief. Contact your attorney for more information.