What Is Litigation?

An empty court room

After a personal injury, you want to learn all you can about the claims process. What is the process for receiving compensation? How do I get a settlement for my injuries? Do I qualify for legal representation? One word you may have heard as you’re doing your research is the word litigation. 

When filing a claim, it’s important to understand what these terms mean and how it relates to your case. Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys, provide a litigation definition to help you understand the meaning of litigation in law and what to expect when you file a legal claim.

The Definition of Litigation

Basically, this term refers to the formal process for resolving a legal dispute. When a party has a legal claim against someone else, they use a process to have it resolved. The word litigation defines the entire process of resolving a dispute. It is a formal legal proceeding to resolve an issue when the parties disagree. 

What Is the Meaning Of Litigation?

Law books in the background with a lady justice statue and a gavel in the foreground.

Law litigation means legal action. It occurs when someone files paperwork for formal legal proceedings. Usually, this means appearing in a courtroom run by the judicial branch of government¹. It may also include certain contested administrative proceedings.

Examples Of Litigation

It can be confusing to understand exactly what the term means. 

Here are some examples:

  • Filing a claim for personal injury compensation following a slip and fall
  • Claiming compensation after a car accident
  • Bringing a case when you’re the victim of medical malpractice
  • Taking legal action to enforce a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • A divorce action or child custody proceeding
  • Disputing the validity of a will or trust
  • Class action lawsuits about dangerous and defective products

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What Is NOT Litigation?

The scales of justice in front of law books

To accurately comprehend the definition, it may be helpful to understand what it isn’t. 

Here are some instances that do not qualify:

  • Signing a landlord/tenant agreement
  • Negotiating an employment contract
  • Drafting a will
  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Creating homeowners association rules
  • Writing a company to tell them about bad service

Just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it is necessarily litigation. Many types of legal transactions and even disagreements aren’t defined litigations. 

For example, if you prepare and sign a rental agreement, that’s not litigation. However, if you later disagree about the terms and one of the parties files in court to have the issue decided by a judge then it would be. 

Similarly, preparing a will isn’t litigation. You’re preparing legal documents, but nothing is contested or disputed when the will is prepared. However, if the beneficiaries later dispute the validity of the will, a formal court proceeding – or litigation – may be needed to resolve the dispute.

Where Does the Term Litigation Come From?

A lawyer and a paralegal on one side of a desk with a client on the other.

Litigation² comes from a Latin word meaning dispute.

  • Litigation – noun – Judicial proceedings to resolve a formal legal dispute
  • Litigate – verb – Bringing and processing a formal legal dispute
  • Litigious – adjective – A person who sues someone

A party to a legal claim might say that they are in the middle of litigation. When used as a verb, you might say that you will litigate your dispute.

Litigation and Personal Injury Victims – What You Should Know

What’s the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Litigation?

It’s common to hear the term referenced to as civil litigation. You may wonder what it means for litigation to be civil as opposed to it being criminal. Here is the difference:


Civil means that no one is charged with a crime. The state is not the prosecutor or plaintiff. If the plaintiff is successful, the case will be resolved with something other than jail time. Punishment may consist of the defendant paying money or with one party ordered to do something specific.


Criminal litigation is the process of resolving whether someone committed a crime. Someone with the authority files charges on behalf of the government and accuses the defendant of a crime. Criminal litigation meaning in law is the process of resolving whether the person is guilty of the crime.

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What Are the Steps in Personal Injury Litigation?

No two cases unfold in the same way, but steps in personal injury litigation may include:

  • Investigating who may have legal liability
  • Gathering evidence of what the case may be worth
  • Filing the summons and complaint
  • Serving legal documents
  • Conducting discovery and attending hearings about the production of evidence
  • Filing preliminary motions to exclude evidence
  • Asking the court to issue summary judgment or disposition about certain legal issues
  • Attending settlement and mediation proceedings
  • Conducting a trial
  • Appeals and post-trial motions
  • Ensuring that the judgment is paid and collected properly

Each state has procedures for how litigation unfolds. Each court manages the cases it hears. They may issue scheduling orders and conduct preliminary proceedings. If the parties don’t resolve the case by agreement, and there is no summary judgment issued in the case, the trial may be the final proceeding to decide the contested issues and who wins the case.

Is Litigation the Same Thing as a Trial?

A judge hitting the gavel with two men standing out of focus in front of him

A trial can be a part of litigation, but it is only one part. The case may resolve by having a trial on the contested issues. However, the entire case process is litigation. Litigation encompasses the initial court documents to pretrial hearings and even post-trial motions.

Is Trial Always a Part of a Personal Injury Case?

If you’re a personal injury victim, don’t assume that getting the compensation you deserve means going to trial. Most cases don’t end up going to trial. It’s typical to begin litigation with the understanding that a trial is possible but not likely to happen. 

Many clients ask about going to trial because they assume it’s a required part of litigation. It’s essential to prepare for the possibility, even if it’s not likely to happen. Trial preparation begins far in advance of your court date. Gathering evidence, witnesses, and statements are all a part of building a solid case that puts you in a prime position to go to trial if necessary. It also makes the other party more likely to accept a reasonable settlement.

Lawyers For Personal Injury Litigation

At Jack Bernstein, Injury Lawyers, we are lawyers who handle personal injury litigation. We can help you understand litigation definition laws and represent you in the litigation process to claim the compensation that you deserve. Contact us today for a review of your case.


¹The Judicial Branch. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved 7 June 2022.

²Litigation. Dictionary.com. Retrieved 7 June 2022.