Civil litigation differs from criminal prosecution in multiple ways. For example, civil courts do not render guilty or not-guilty verdicts. They render judgments. A judgment is a court order recognizing the validity of a civil complaint and any action necessary to satisfy that complaint. Judgments are divided into two classes: monetary and non-monetary.
The names of the two classes are pretty self-explanatory. Monetary judgments are the result of lawsuits involving unpaid debts. Non-monetary judgments are exclusive of debt collection and, as a result, do not involve a monetary award.
More About Monetary Judgments
Monetary judgments almost always start out as debt collection. There are exceptions, which will be discussed shortly. For now, though, the types of debts that end up in civil litigation are nearly unlimited. JudgmentCollectors.com, who collects judgments in states like California and Texas, says that common examples include:
- Rent (residential or commercial)
- Fees for contracted services
- Medical bills
- Utilities, cell phone service, etc.
Companies often turn to civil court after general collection efforts have failed. Civil litigation resulting in a judgment against the debtor gives a creditor access to resources and tools that would have otherwise been off the table. They can make an enormous difference.
A typical debt collection judgment would include the original amount plus attorney fees and court costs. Most states allow creditors to charge interest for as long as the debt goes unpaid. Any additional attorney fees and court costs could be added to the debt as well.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
Personal injury lawsuits are considered monetary even though the origin of such cases isn’t debt collection. Why? Because plaintiffs are seeking some sort of monetary award to compensate for medical care, pain and suffering, etc. A winning plaintiff will see a judgment entered in their favor.
Just like cases involving debt collection, the monetary awards resulting from personal injury cases usually include court costs and attorney fees. That is just the general rule of civil court. Losing parties are often stuck with the bill covering the winning party’s legal expenses.
More About Non-Monetary Judgments
As the name implies, a non-monetary judgment doesn’t involve the exchange of financial resources – with the possible exception of the losing party having to pay the winning party’s legal expenses. A non-monetary case would involve some sort of action on behalf of the defendant.
A dispute between contractor and customer makes the perfect example. Imagine a customer who takes a remodeling contractor to court with a complaint alleging that the contractor did not do all the work he was expected to do. In its decision, the court could order the contractor to perform the required work to the satisfaction of the customer.
With the possible exception of legal fees, no money exchanges hands here. Rather, the contractor is simply ordered to fulfill its end of the bargain.
Non-Monetary Government Lawsuits
Government lawsuits are a considerable source of non-monetary civil judgments. For example, consider a developer looking to proceed on a new project but being consistently shot down at every turn by local authorities. He might ultimately take local government to court in hopes of forcing them to back off.
Should the developer win, the court would issue a cease-and-desist order for whatever actions local authorities are taking to stop development from moving forward. No monetary damages are awarded.
The differences between monetary and non-monetary judgments are easy to understand with a few examples. Just remember that even non-monetary judgments could still force losing parties to pay the winning party’s legal fees. The big difference with monetary judgments is that plaintiffs are seeking financial relief as a basis for litigation.