Taking and appealing a civil case
Civil cases usually involve private disputes between persons or organisations, such as, disputes involving accidents or breaches of contract.
Before commencing proceedings in your civil case, you should get legal advice. You can learn more about accessing civil legal aid and advice and browse contact information for solicitors firms throughout Ireland.
To enquire whether you are eligible for legal aid or advice, contact your nearest law centre. You can also contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) services in your area.
To commence proceedings, you must issue and serve a written court document called a writ or pleading.
Many cases do not get to court because they are settled in advance. Our settlement of claims document explains the issues surrounding settlements and lodgements.
After the court case, if you are unhappy with the outcome, you may be able to appeal the decision (see below).
Types of civil claim
There are various types of civil claims that you may take to court.
Many civil claims are personal injuries claims that are brought as a result of road traffic accidents, accidents at work and slipping or tripping and falling in a shop, on a road or in a public place. It is important to note that you cannot pursue a personal injuries action through the courts without first submitting your claim to the InjuriesBoard.ie process.
You may have a claim based on breach of contract or based on a neighbour's interference with your enjoyment of your property - nuisance claims.
Another type of case is a claim for damages as a result of defamation, that is, when a person’s reputation is injured as a result of the publication by any means, orally or in writing, of untruths about the person.
You may have a claim in relation to ownership of land or you may require the court to sort out arrangements in respect of marital breakdown.
In which court will my case be heard?
If you have been injured in an accident, the value of your case will be assessed by your legal representatives based on doctors' reports about the nature and extent of your injuries and the prognosis for the future.
The District Court has power to award up to €15,000 in damages. The Circuit Court has power to award up to €75,000 in damages. The High Court has unlimited power to award damages.
It is important to note that, if your case is heard in Circuit Court and you are awarded less than €15,000 in damages, or in the High Court and you are awarded less than €75,000 in damages, you may be penalised in costs.
This means that even though you have won your case, you may be obliged to pay the extra costs incurred by both sides by having the case heard in the higher court.
Time limits for actions
The time limits for commencing proceedings are generally legislated for in the Statute of Limitations Act 1957. It says that:
- A personal injuries claim must be commenced within 2 years of becoming aware that injuries were caused by another’s negligence or when you ought to have become aware of those facts
- A claim based on nuisance, that is, where a person has interfered with your enjoyment of your property, must be brought within 6 years of the nuisance
- A claim based on breach of contract must generally be brought within 6 years of the breach
- A claim based on defamation must generally be brought within 1 year of the publication
- Cases relating to land generally must be brought within 12 years
Appealing the decision in a civil case
If you are unhappy with the result of your case, you may wish to appeal your case to a higher court. You are normally limited to only one appeal of any decision made.
If your case was commenced in the District Court, it can be appealed to the Circuit Court. A case commenced in the Circuit Court may be appealed to the High Court. A High Court case may be appealed to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court in exceptional circumstances.
There are relatively strict time limits in place for lodging appeals and if you do intend to appeal, you should be aware of these timelines.
You may choose to appeal the original judge's decision in its entirety, i.e., their decision on who was to blame and the damages awarded (if they were awarded). In this event, the appeal court may:
- Agree with the decision of the original court and uphold it
- Disagree with the decision of the original court and overturn it
- Increase or decrease the amount of damages awarded
If you are happy with the decision made by the original judge in relation to who was at fault but unhappy with the amount of damages they have awarded, you may appeal the amount of damages awarded only. Then the appeal court may either increase or decrease the amount of damages awarded by the original judge.
It may be the case that you appeal against the level of damages awarded to you but the other side also appeal the decision that they must pay damages, or vice versa.
If you lose your appeal, you will likely have to pay the costs of both sides so any offers to settle made by the other side should be seriously considered.
Further information on appeals from the Circuit Court to the High Court is available on the Courts Service website, including appeals from the District Court to the Circuit Court and appeals from the Circuit Court to the High Court.