The primary purpose of our courts is to resolve conflicts. Many people probably think from television and movies that courts actually create conflict when they watch a ruthless lawyer scale down a ruthless witness or another ruthless lawyer. However, the reason the case got to court was because someone had a conflict with someone else, and we have determined over hundreds of years that it is better to resolve these conflicts in a peaceful and nonviolent manner.
Many of you have seen westerns where conflicts were resolved at high noon on main street, where the winner was the fastest draw. Many of you are also familiar with the Salem witch trials where witch cake could be used as evidence of guilt and where your odds of surviving were greater if you pleaded guilty regardless of your innocence. We still have violent conflicts on a regular basis, oftentimes referred to as war or riots, but those conflicts are beyond the realm of the courts. The conflicts most addressed by the courts are those involving individuals or individual businesses and companies.
Predecessors of today's courts included dragging an adversary to a designated strong man who would kill him or her if he believed your story, having fellow citizens decide the winner based upon what they had heard in the community, hiring the most witnesses to support your story, and hand to hand combat, among many others.
The role of the courts today, as I previously stated, is to resolve conflicts as humanely and civilly as possible. The cases that receive the most publicity are criminal in nature, and in those cases the government proceeds against the individual. Most trials, however, involve individuals or companies suing other individuals or companies. i used to practice criminal law and there are aspects of those cases that are unique to criminal cases. My focus here, however, is on civil cases, the ones most likely to invade your life at some point.
Lets assume you bought a pig from a neighbor. You bought it because you wanted to breed pigs and sell the piglets. You had heard during coffee at a local diner that your neighbor had a great sow that produced piglets prolifically. You approached your neighbor and asked if he was interested in selling the sow. He said he was since he had decided to raise llamas instead. You told him that you wanted to breed the sow and he agreed this would be the perfect sow to seed. You paid him the asking price and lugged the hog home.
You later hired Bob the Boar through his owner to seed the sow. They had a great time and everyone awaited the blessed event, which never came. You, or rather Bob, tried again and still no results. You contacted the local animal doctor to check your sow and learned that she was sterile. Befuddled at best you approached your neighbor and asked if you could return the sow since she couldn't seed. He expressed his regrets but said he didn't want the sow. You asked if you could have your money back and he said no as well. At this point you become the Hatfields and McCoys.
You believe you have been wronged because you hoped for a seeded sow. Your neighbor believes it is wrong for you to expect your money back since you took the sow in the first place and he moved on with his new venture. You stew over this predicament. Should you just write it off as an unfortunate life experience, or take him to court. You decide on the latter.
To take your neighbor to court you have to go to the court clerk's office and file a complaint, which essentially says that he sold you a sow that you wanted to seed but couldn't be successfully seeded. The neighbor, lets call him Ned since it is shorter than neighbor, then has a designated period of time to file an answer to your complaint, which either admits or denies what you said in your complaint. If he admits the facts as contained in the complaint you can ask the court to find in your favor without a trial because there is no factual dispute. Trials are only held if there is a factual dispute because the sole purpose of a trial is to determine what the underlying facts are
Given the facts as state above, with nothing more, there wouldn't be a need for a trial, so you would ask the court to resolve the dispute without one. The real issue would be whether you should get your money back from Ned since the sow couldn't seed anymore. The court would then look to the law to resolve the dispute. The primary source of laws is either written laws, such as statutes, or case law, which comes from decisions reached by other courts facing similar situations. If the court could not find a law that applies then it would have to make the decision on its own, which decision could then become law for other courts facing the same dispute. The court would try to make what it considers the fairest decision given its impact on future sow sales and purchases.
Lets add to the facts above that you said in your complaint that Ned said he guaranteed that the sow would seed prolifically for you. Unfortunately, Ned said in his answer that he never said any such thing. Now the case has to go to trial. The court has to determine if Ned made that guarantee. You get your day in court. Both you and Ned testify to what you said in your complaint and answer. The court must now decide if Ned made that guarantee. This is where the burden of proof comes in. Since you filed the lawsuit you have the burden of proving that is more likely than not that Ned made the guarantee. If the court cannot decide whether to believe you or Ned then you unfortunately go home with no money and a seedless sow. However, if the court decides to believe you rather than Ned because of your wit and charm, then you win. The court would probably order that you get some if not all of your money back, but would probably not force Ned to take the sow back. Everyone will not be happy with the court's decision but the court has resolved the conflict. Whether you ever get a red cent from Ned is another story for another day.