Stages of a Civil Trial
What is an Opening Statement?
What is Direct Examination?
What is Cross Examination
What is an Objection?
What is Closing Argument
What Are Civil Trials?
Civil Trials are cases in which a corporation or individual files a lawsuit against another corporation or individual requesting the Court award monetary damages.
Where Do I Find the Court Rules for Civil Claims?
The rules for civil cases of the Court of Common Pleas are found in the Rules Book of the Delaware Code Annotated. These rules are available in the Law Library in each County's Courthouse, the Wilmington Free Institute Library and Widener University School of Law Library on Concord Pike in Wilmington. The rules will explain the procedures in filing and defending a lawsuit.
When Should You File Your Lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas?
To file a civil case in the Court of Common Pleas, the amount you sue for cannot exceed $50,000.00. If the amount you are suing for is greater than $50,000.00, you must file your case in Superior Court. If the amount you are suing for is $15,000.00 or less, you may file either in the Justice of the Peace Court or in the Court of Common Pleas. You may find it easier to file in Justice of the Peace Court and you may receive an earlier trial date.
Is An Attorney Required?
An individual may appear as a Plaintiff or a Defendant in the Court of Common Pleas without an attorney. If you are not familiar with court procedures or the legal issues in your case, you may wish to consider consulting an attorney.
Unlike the rules in Justice of the Peace Court, if you are appearing on behalf of a corporation in the Court of Common Pleas, you must obtain an attorney.
How Do I Begin a Lawsuit?
To begin a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas, you must file documents called a "Complaint," a "Praecipe" and a "Summons" with the Court. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 3) The person filing the Complaint is known as the "Plaintiff" and the person being sued is known as the "Defendant." Make sure you know the true, legal name of the person or business you intend to sue. If you sue the wrong party, your case may be dismissed.
A "Complaint" is a document, which describes in short, plain statements numbered consecutively, the nature of the matter. The final statement should indicate how much money is being asked for. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 8).
The "Praecipe" tells the Sheriff (who will serve the papers on the Defendant) who to serve and where to find that person. The Court will need the original and one copy for each Defendant.
The "Summons" is the form that the Clerk of the Court issues to the Sheriff to be served on the Defendant along with the Complaint. The Court will need the original and one copy for each Defendant.
Every Complaint must be delivered to the person or persons you are suing. The Sheriff's Office in each County will attempt to serve your Complaint on the Defendant(s). You must tell the Sheriff who to serve and where to find that person. The document that gives the Sheriff this information is called the "Praecipe."
Your Complaint should be typed or neatly handwritten on 8-1/2" by 11" paper. The Complaint should be written in a series of short statements that are numbered one, two and so on.
At the top of the Complaint, you must state the name of the Court. Below and to the left, your name(s) should be listed as the Plaintiff, and the Defendant's name must be filled in. The Clerk will assign the case number when you file the Complaint. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule l0) At the end of the Complaint, you must sign your name and give your address and telephone number.
You should make at least three copies of the Complaint. The original and one copy for each Defendant are filed with the Court. You should keep a copy for your records. Your copy will be stamped with the date and time by the Clerk and returned to you. You should keep that copy as proof of when you filed the Complaint. You must give the Court a copy of the Complaint for each Defendant you are suing.
When you file the Complaint and Praecipe, you will have to pay an $85.00 filing fee and any Sheriff's fees required for serving the Complaint.
Once the Defendant(s) are served with the Complaint, the Sheriff will notify the Court. You should call the Court or stop in within two weeks of filing the Complaint to determine if the Defendant(s) have been served. If the Sheriff cannot serve the Defendant(s), the Complaint will be returned to the Court of Common Pleas Clerk's Office. If this occurs, you need to provide a better address to the Court in order that the Defendant(s) may be served.
How Do I File an Answer to a Complaint?
If you wish to contest the claim against you, you must answer the Complaint in writing within twenty (20) days from the day you receive it. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 12(e)) The twenty (20) days begin the day after you receive the Complaint and all days are counted. If the twentieth day falls on a weekend or a legal holiday, you may file an Answer with the Court on the following day.
Your Answer should be kept as simple as possible and should be set up like the sample Answer. At the top of the Answer, the name of the Court must be stated. Below that and to the left, the names of the Plaintiff(s) (the person or persons who brought suit against you) and the Defendant(s) need to be filled in. The case number must also be stated on the Answer. This information may be copied directly from the Complaint. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 10)
The paragraphs on the Complaint are consecutively numbered. You must respond to each of the numbered statements with a brief answer. For each statement, you should indicate whether or not the statement is true, if you know. You should answer simply with the words "admitted," "denied," or "do not know," whatever is correct. If the statement is partially true, you may answer "admitted in part" and then explain. Any explanation of your answers should be kept brief. At the end of the Answer, sign your name and give your address and telephone number.
Bring the original of the Answer and one copy to the Clerk's Office of the Court of Common Pleas. The Court will clock in both the copy and the original. The Court will keep the original and return the copy to you as proof that you filed your Answer with the Court.
You can mail a copy of your Answer to the Plaintiff or you may hand deliver it. If you mail it, you should type or write at the end of your Answer, "Mailed to Plaintiff on (date)." If you decide to deliver it, you should take one copy of the Answer to the office of the attorney who filed the Complaint or to the person who filed it, if they do not have an attorney. The attorney's office, or the person who filed the Complaint if there is not an attorney involved, must note on the original of the Answer that they have received a copy.
What Happens if the Defendant Fails to File an Answer?
If the Complaint is not answered within twenty (20) days after being served by the Sheriff, you may direct the Clerk to enter a default judgment against the Defendant(s) since they did not file an Answer. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 55 (b)(1).)
What is a Counterclaim?
If you are a Defendant and you believe the Plaintiff owes you money, you may file what is known as a "counterclaim." The counterclaim should be filed with the Answer. As the Defendant, you must outline in writing specifically why you are suing the Plaintiff and the amount of money you are seeking. The original must be filed with the Court and a copy should be hand-delivered or mailed to the Plaintiff. The copy that is filed with the Court must have a notarized affidavit detailing the specific manner in which the Plaintiff was served with the counterclaim.
What is Discovery?
Discovery in a lawsuit is a way to learn more about your opponent's case. The most common discovery methods are described below.
Types of Discovery
Interrogatories(Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 33)
Interrogatories are written questions about the case that you send or deliver to your opponent, who must give you written answers within thirty (30) days of receiving the questions.
Common examples of interrogatories are:
- Please provide me with the name and address of each person you intend to call as a witness. For each witness listed, include a short summary of the testimony you expect the witness to give in court.
- Please state in detail why you have denied that you owe the money that I claim (or why you believe I owe money to you).
- Will any of your witnesses testify as experts? If so, please provide me with the area of expertise (medicine, home repair, auto mechanics, etc.) and a summary of the opinions the expert will express.
Request for Production of Documents(Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 34)
This is a written request to your opponent to supply you with copies of any documents that may be important to the case, or at least the right to inspect the documents and make your own copies. Your opponent has thirty (30) days to respond from the date your request is received. Typically, requests are for:
- Copies of any invoices, bills, statements, receipts or estimates that you believe show the amount I owe you (or you owe me).
- Copies of any other documents that you expect to use at trial.
Depositions(Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 30)
A deposition is testimony taken out of court of a witness under oath which is used for discovery purposes. You may take the deposition of your opponent or of a party before the trial. To schedule the deposition of any party in the case, you must send the person a written notice of the date, time and place of the deposition and you must arrange for a court reporter to be present to make an official record of the testimony. You must follow the same steps for the deposition of a witness, who is not a party to the lawsuit, except that you must serve the witness with a subpoena to appear for the deposition. The Notice of Subpoena must be received by the person to be deposed at least ten (10) days before the scheduled date of the deposition.
At the deposition, the court reporter will put the party or witness under oath and you may ask any questions you have about the case. The purpose of a deposition is to help you prepare for trial by learning what your opponent and your opponent's witnesses will say in court.
Request for Admissions(Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 36(a))
These are written requests that your opponent may admit or deny the truthfulness of a statement or the genuineness of a document. For example, if you want to learn before trial whether your opponent will agree that he or she has signed a contract, you may send a Request for Admissions that says, "Please admit or deny that the signature on the contract attached is your signature." Your opponent must respond within thirty (30) days by stating "Admitted" (the signature is mine) or "Denied" (the signature is not mine). If your opponent states that he or she is unable to admit or deny that the signature is theirs, they must explain why they are unable to do so.
Requests for Admissions may also be used to verify or prove the basic facts of the case. For instance, a Request for Admission may say:Please admit or deny the following:
- We signed a contract for home remodeling on January 16, 1998.
- The total cost of the remodeling was $15,000.
- All of the remodeling work to be done was described in the written contract.
- I paid you $15,000. in three equal installments between January 16 and February 19, 1998.
- You did not complete all of the remodeling work described in the written contrac
How Do I Answer Discovery?
If you are served with a discovery request (Interrogatories, Request for Production of Documents, or Request for Admissions), you must respond in writing within thirty (30) calendar days of the date you received the request. If you need additional time to respond (or if a deposition is scheduled for a date or time that is impossible for you to attend), you should contact the person requesting the discovery and ask them to agree to a short extension of time (or in the case of a deposition, a different date). The Court expects that the parties will be reasonable and will consult each other to resolve discovery problems before bringing the problem to the attention of a Judge. If the parties are unable to resolve a discovery problem, one of the parties will have to file a motion asking that a Judge decide the issue. A motion is a written application requesting the Court to make a specified order or ruling.
The responses to written discovery requests must also be in writing. Each question or request should be answered separately and in the same order as in the request. A Request for Production of Documents may be answered by providing copies of all of the requested documents in your possession. As with the Complaint and Answer, you must sign your discovery responses and include your address and telephone number. When you answer interrogatories, you must also attach an Affidavit that states that you swear or affirm that your answers are true to the best of your knowledge. You must sign the Affidavit in the presence of a notary public.
What Happens if I Do Not Get a Response to My Discovery Request?
If your opponent does not respond to your discovery request, or if the response is incomplete, you must file a Motion to Compel responses for decision by a judge. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule Rule 37) If you receive discovery requests from your opponent which you believe are so completely unrelated to the lawsuit that you should not be required to respond, you must file a Motion for Protective Order for decision by a judge. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 26(c))
What is a Pre-Trial Conference?
If the Defendant(s) answers the Complaint, the case may be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. At the conference, the parties will meet with a judicial officer in an attempt to narrow the issues, determine the number of witnesses to be called, the length of the trial, and to discuss the possibility of settlement.
If a pre-trial conference is scheduled, you will receive notice of the date by mail along with a Civil Case Management Order, which must be completed by the parties and returned to the Court five (5) days before the scheduled conference. A completed copy of the Civil Case Management Order must also be mailed or hand-delivered to the opposing party or to the attorney representing the party.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is a method to resolve disputes between parties using a neutral third-party to decide the matter. If your matter is arbitrated, the decision of the arbitrator is non-binding.
Will My Case be Arbitrated?
If the Plaintiff’s claim for relief exceeds $15,000.00, the case will be referred to Arbitration. The Arbitrator receives compensation in the amount of $310.00, which shall be equally shared between the parties. Each party shall pay his or her share to the Clerk of the Court within twenty (20) days of the notice of the appointment of an Arbitrator. (Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 16.l)
The case will be scheduled for Arbitration once all pleadings have been filed with the Court. Pleadings are the written documents of fact and law that are filed by the parties. Examples of pleadings are the complaint and answer.
How Do I Prepare for Trial?
Before going to trial, organize your case. Plan what you intend to say and organize your testimony and arguments so that the judge will be able to understand what happened and why and how you have been wronged or injured. If you plan on calling witnesses, immediately notify them of the trial date. If the witness is unwilling to appear voluntarily, you could request the clerk to issue a subpoena to require a witness to attend and bring specified documents to court. The Sheriff’s fee for a subpoena is $15.00, and must be requested at least ten (10) working days before trial. Payments can be made with check, cash, or money order. Currently, we are unable to accept credit/debit card payments at the Court.
At trial, if you attempt to provide the court with written statements or affidavits of a witness, this may not be considered as evidence under the Delaware Rules of Evidence if the other party objects, due to the inability to cross-examine the witness as to the written statement.
You also need to bring with you to trial all documents, receipts, photographs, bills, estimates, materials or papers to help prove your claim or counterclaim. You should have three copies of any evidence you wish to submit into the record; one copy for the Judge, one for the clerk and one for the other party. As a Plaintiff bringing the lawsuit, or the Defendant filing a counterclaim, you will be required to prove that you suffered a loss or injury and the actual amount of your loss. If your claim involves property damage, you may bring a qualified witness to testify to the amount of damage and the cost to repair it. If the damage has been repaired prior to trial, you may bring in estimates, canceled checks and receipts to substantiate your loss.
What If I Need to Obtain a Continuance in My Case?
If you have a valid reason why you are unable to appear for a scheduled court appearance, immediately contact the court in writing outlining the circumstances. The Court will not consider verbal continuance requests. Requests for continuances will not be considered unless the request is made at least three (3) days prior to the scheduled event, except in cases of a verified emergency.
You should contact the other party to determine whether or not they will object to your continuance request and that information should be included in your written continuance request. The clerk will be unable to tell you whether the matter will be continued. The clerk will forward your continuance request to a judicial officer to decide whether or not to grant your request.
Going to Court
Without regard for the specifics of your case, all parties who appear before the court should know the date and time your trial is scheduled and be there on time, prepared to go forward. If the matter is settled before the date of your trial, immediately notify the Clerk's Office. If you do not appear on the date and time scheduled for your trial, you may lose the case.
Stages of a Civil Trial In the Court of Common Pleas
I. Opening Statements - (optional)- Generally the plaintiff goes first
- The defendant goes second if he/she elects to do so
II. Case-in-Chief - (Plaintiff presents his/her evidence)
- Direct Examination of witness by plaintiff
- Cross Examination of witness by defendant (scope limited to direct)
- Redirect Examination of witness by plaintiff
- Recross Examination of witness by defendant
III. Defense - (Defendant presents his/her evidence)- Direct Examination of witness by defendant
- Cross Examination of witness by plaintiff (scope limited to direct)
- Redirect Examination of witness by defendant
- Recross Examination of witness by plaintiff
IV. Rebuttal - (Plaintiff may have option to call rebuttal witnesses)- Similar to case-in-chief
V. Closing Argument - (Optional)- Generally plaintiff goes first
- Generally Defendant goes second
After closing arguments are made, the Judge will either rule from the bench or reserve decision and issue a written opinion when he/she has rendered a decision.
What is an Opening Statement?
The purpose of an opening statement is to provide each side with an opportunity to tell the judge what the party intends to prove in the case. Opening statements are optional; neither side is required to present one. If a party chooses to make an opening statement, it must be confined to the facts that will be proved by evidence presented during the trial.
The party bringing the lawsuit begins by presenting his/her opening statement. The defendant then follows with his or her opening statement.
What is direct examination?
After opening statements are presented, the Plaintiff begins the presentation of evidence by calling witnesses. The questions the Plaintiff asks the witnesses are known as direct examination. Generally, parties may not ask leading questions of their own witnesses. Leading questions are those questions that tend to suggest the desired answer.
What is cross-examination?
When a party concludes the questioning of their own witness, the opposing party may then cross-examine the witness. Cross-examination is generally limited to questioning only on matters that were raised during direct examination. As the purpose of cross-examination is to test the credibility of statements made by a witness during direct examination, leading questions are permitted.
What is an objection?
An objection is a process by which one party opposes a statement or a procedure that has occurred or is about to occur in Court. Objections may be made by the opposing party for many reasons under the Delaware Uniform Rules of Evidence, such as a leading question, questions that require an answer based on hearsay, or questions which call for an opinion by a witness. The Delaware Uniform Rules of Evidence are found in the Delaware Rules Annotated.
The judge will require that a specific legal reason be given for an objection. The objection may be either sustained or overruled. If the objection is sustained, the party must re-phrase the question in a proper form or ask another question. If the objection is overruled, the witness is permitted to respond to the question.
What is closing argument?
Closing arguments are heard after both parties have completed presenting their evidence. Each party is permitted closing arguments or summation to discuss the evidence presented at trial and the inferences that may be drawn from such evidence.
What Is a Judgment?
A judgment is simply a determination by the Court of who owes whom and in what amount. It is not an order for payment. The Court cannot guarantee that the winning party will ever collect on the judgment. When a party has had a judgment entered in their favor and the losing party has not paid or appealed, the Court does not take any further action.
How Do You Collect Your Money?
The procedures for collecting a judgment may be complicated. You may attach the party’s wages or levy on goods and chattels. To do so, you must file a Praecipe with the Court requesting a Writ of Attachment for a wage attachment, or Writ of Fi Fa to levy on goods and chattels. If you are seeking a wage attachment, under Federal and Delaware Law, a portion of the debtor’s wages are exempt from the execution process.
If you desire to create a lien on real property owned by the defendant, the plaintiff must transfer the judgment to the Prothonotary of the Superior Court in any county in which the property is located. A judgment so transferred becomes a lien, from the date transferred, on all real estate of the losing party within the county in which the Prothonotary’s office was located.
As the Sheriff’s Fees vary by county and may change without prior notice, please visit the website or contact the Sheriff’s Office by telephone in the county where the case will be filed for the current list of fees.
- New Castle County Sheriff’s Office General Fee Schedule
- Kent County Levy Court Sheriff’s Fees—Please contact the Levy Court at (302) 744-2366
- Sussex County Sheriff’s Office Fee Schedule
Civil Filing Fees
All filing fees shall be non-refundable and shall cover all costs, except sheriff's service, which shall be paid separately by the moving party to the sheriff. Payments can be made with check, cash, or money order. Currently, we are unable to accept credit/debit card payments at the Court.
($75.00 plus $10.00 Court Security Assessment)
Petition for Name Change
|Justice of the Peace Court Appeal
($125.00 plus $10.00 Court Security Assessment)
|Administrative Appeals from the Dept. of Public Safety, Division
of Motor Vehicles and Dog Control Panel
($125.00 plus $10.00 Court Security Assessment)
|Confirmation of Arbitration Awards
($300.00 plus $10.00 Court Security Assessment)
|Petition to Restore Driving Privileges||
|Preparing file for Appeal to Superior Court||
|Transfer of Judgment to Superior Court||
|Copy charge (maximum per page)||
|Closed file retrieval||
|Closed file retrieval (expedited)||
|Efiling Technology fee per document
(This fee shall not apply to filing by any governmental agency)
Appeals to Superior Court
Since all testimony in the Court of Common Pleas is recorded by Audio Monitors, an appeal is only allowed on the record evidence at the trial. In other words, if a party appeals an adverse decision to the Superior Court, the case is not retried.
Court of Common Pleas civil appeals begin in the Superior Court Prothonotary’s Office. Once the paperwork and the fees have been submitted, a Citation on Appeal is served on the Clerk in the Court of Common Pleas. All records pertaining to the case are gathered in the Court of Common Pleas and delivered to the Prothonotary’s Office. If a transcript of the trial testimony is necessary for the appeal, the party appealing the decision is responsible for the cost of having the transcript prepared by an Audio Monitor. Click here for Court of Common Pleas transcripts.
It is inappropriate for court employees to render legal advice. If a member of the public requests assistance, court personnel will advise the litigant to seek advice from an attorney.
As a litigant, if you are unable to afford counsel, you may contact the following organizations for assistance:
Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.
575-0660 New Castle County
674-8500 Kent County
856-0038 Sussex County
Delaware Legal Help Link/Lawyer Referral Service
478-8850 New Castle County
(888) 225-0582 Kent & Sussex Counties
Court Locations and Hours
New Castle County Courthouse
500 N. King Street
Wilmington, DE 19801-3704
Telephone (302) 255-0942
Hours of Operation:
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Kent County Courthouse
38 The Green, Suite 6
Dover, DE 19901
Telephone (302) 739-4618
Civil & Name Change Petitions – Press 4
Hours of Operation:
8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sussex County Courthouse
Race & Market Streets
One The Circle, Suite l
Georgetown, DE 19947
Telephone (302) 856-5333
Failure to pay Capias (Warrant)
Telephone (302) 856-5737
Hours of Operation:
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.