Civil Litigation

Civil litigation includes all court lawsuits and appeals other than criminal prosecutions. The lawyers at Harshman Ponist handle civil litigation in all Indiana state or local courts.

Personal Injury

Most civil litigation can be roughly divided into two types of cases, tort cases and contract cases. The difference between the two is that a contract case is based on a promise the defendant made to the plaintiff and failed to keep. In fact, the simplest definition of a contract is a promise that a court will enforce. Tort cases are not based on a promise but simply on the defendant’s actions and harm to the plaintiff.

In a tort case, the plaintiff sues a defendant for causing some type of damage to the plaintiff, and one way to categorize torts by the type of harm, whether it is physical injury, property damage, economic loss, emotional harm, or damage to reputation (defamation). The injury can also be death, with the case being filed by the deceased person’s estate or by someone with a close relationship to the deceased person. Tort cases in which the harm caused by the defendant is death, physical injury, emotional harm, or damage to reputation are often call personal injury cases, to distinguish from property damage and economic loss.

Personal injury cases can be categorized several different ways. One way is to characterize cases by the actions or events that caused the harm. Examples are traffic accidents, “slip-and-fall,” and medical malpractice.

Another way to characterize personal injury cases is by the defendant’s mental state regarding the action that caused harm to the plaintiff. Intentional torts are those in which the defendant intended to do whatever harmed the plaintiff. Negligence cases are those in which the plaintiff was harmed because the defendant acted with some degree of carelessness. Accidents are usually negligence cases.

Some personal injury cases are based on strict liability. In a strict liability case, the defendant’s mental state is irrelevant. What matters is that the defendant did something that harmed the plaintiff, not whether the defendant acted either intentionally or negligently. Product liability is a good example of a strict liability tort. If the plaintiff was harmed by a design or manufacturing defect in a product, the manufacturer may be held liable without regard to how the defect was caused. The plaintiff does not have to show that the manufacturer acted either intentionally or negligently. All that matters is that the manufacturer produced a defective product and the plaintiff was harmed by it. Product liability case can be so different from intentional torts and negligence cases that they are sometimes considered as an entirely different species than other personal injury cases.

Our civil litigation attorneys represent either plaintiffs or defendants in personal injury cases involving automobile or other motor vehicle accidents; toxic torts (injury caused by exposure to dangerous substances); professional malpractice; assault or battery; premises liability (such as slip-and-fall); dog bites; and defamation (libel or slander).

Business Litigation

Most, but not all, business litigation involves contract disputes. As mentioned earlier, a contract is, at its heart, a promise that a court will enforce, and the business and commercial world revolves largely around contracts. Every first-year law student learns that the elements of a breach of contract case are an offer to enter into a contract, an acceptance of the offer, consideration, breach of the contract, and damages resulting from the breach.

The ease with which those elements can be recited is deceiving. The outcome of a breach of contract case can turn on facts that, at first blush, may appear to be insignificant details. The meaning of a written contract can turn on a comma. The law is filled with the nuances of precedential case law written by judges two hundred years ago or last week. Whether a contract is enforceable or not may depend on considerations of public policy that, on the surface, have nothing to do with the case at hand.

Examples of contract-based litigation include disputes between the owner of a construction project and the contractor or between the general contractor and a subcontractor; disputes between a homeowner and a home improvement contractor; commercial landlord-tenant disputes; and disputes between franchisors and franchisees.

Not all business litigation is based in contract. There are also business torts, including the tortious interference with a contract or with a business relationship. Disputes between the members of a limited liability company (LLC) or the shareholders of a closely held corporation may revolve the language written in the company’s operating agreement or bylaws, or they may revolve around the breach of fiduciary or other duties owed by one owner of a closely held business to another that are not written in a contract but rather established by statute or case law.

Other Civil Litigation

Harshman Ponist’s litigators can represent clients in other types of cases that do not fall cleanly into either personal injury or business litigation, including probate matters and lawsuits to resolve title to real estate known as quiet-title actions.

Trials and Appeals

Harshman Ponist lawyers can handle litigation in any state or local court in Indiana, both trial courts and appellate courts.

In almost every instance, the first step in civil litigation is a lawsuit filed in one of Indiana’s trial courts. Every county has a circuit court with at least one judge and courtroom. Some counties also have superior courts. Circuit courts and superior courts are courts of general jurisdiction, which means they can accept almost any type of lawsuit. Although a few types of cases must be filed in a circuit court, for the most part circuit courts and superior courts are equivalent.

Some counties also have small claims courts. In most counties, small claims court is just a docket in a circuit court or superior court, separate from other cases in the same court. In Marion County, each township has a small claims court that is separate from the Marion County Circuit and Superior Courts. Small claims courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, which means they cannot accept all types of cases. For example, small claims courts have a limit on the amount of damages they can award.

There are also some town and city courts in Indiana. Like small claims courts, they are also courts of limited jurisdiction.

Decisions of trial courts can be appealed to Indiana’s appellate courts. An appeal is a review of decisions made by the trial court, such as decisions regarding what evidence to admit and, if there is a jury, decisions regarding the instructions given to the jury. No new evidence is presented or considered. The results of an appeal can be an affirmation or reversal of the trial court’s decision. If the trial court’s decision is reversed, the appellate court may send the case back for a new trial or for a particular issue – such as the amount of damages – to be decided in light of the appellate court’s decision. Occasionally, the appellate decision will direct the trial court to take a specific action, such as to dismiss a case, rather than to relitigate any part of the case.

In almost every situation, the first step is an appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The party initiating the appeal files a brief with the Court explaining what mistakes the party thinks the trial court made and why. The other party has a chance to respond with its own brief, and the original party may file a short rebuttal brief. The Court of Appeals then issues its decision. Either party may request that the Indiana Supreme Court set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal and assume jurisdiction over the case, a process known as transfer. If the Supreme Court grants transfer, it will issue a new decision to replace the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Harshman Ponist lawyers have appeared before both the Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court.