You are here: Home E-Guide to Real Estate in Costa Rica Chapter 11 - Legal Matters Civil lawsuits

Civil lawsuits

Kafka would have loved Costa Rica’s civil legal proceedings, and truly one is never sure whether to laugh or cry, although toward the end of the sometimes 10- or 15-year process, the latter is more common. Two things can make a lawsuit for damages almost literally interminable. One, it is entirely a written process, except for witness testimony. And two, any aspect of the case with potential to end it can be appealed all the way up to the supreme court.

Civil proceedings fall into two categories, mayor cuantia and menor cuantia. The first is for claims of damages over 500,000 colones (about $1,000), the second for claims of less than that amount. Menor cuantia trials can be shorter, depending on the type of claim. Mayor cuantia cases take an average of about six months just to be served – and that’s when it goes well. The person being sued can then object to the grounds of the suit, a process which can also last months. Once the judge has finally decided to hear the case, you have the option of mediation. Because civil proceedings can take so long, the parties often agree to sit down with a judge and come to terms there. That can take as little as a few hours, but the judge probably won’t be able to give you an appointment for four to six months.

Hence, without even actually going to trial, a civil court lawsuit can take between one and two years to resolve. If both parties can’t agree on mediation, the proceeding goes to the evidence stage. If that goes smoothly it can take six months to a year, but it almost never does, and each objection can add months to the proceeding. Once the evidence stage draws to a close, the court will spend another six months to a year reviewing the evidence and drawing up a decision. Then the appeals start again, and they can go all the way to the supreme court. According to Costa Rican law, the supreme courts have to hear cases if they get that far. That means they have a lot of work, and your case will spend probably another two to four years in the supreme court appeal. All this is assuming that things go relatively quickly.

If your opponent’s attorney decides to appeal at every single stage of the case, he or she can, and appeals whose result could end the case can be taken all the way to the supreme court. It can take, literally, years. Finally, if the person bringing suit leaves it without action for three months, it gets thrown out, and the suit starts from zero.

Now you see why, when it comes to any sort of serious transaction in Costa Rica, it is much, much easier to carry out thorough due diligence than try to sue someone later. There is always talk of reforming the civil suit proceeding by making it an oral, rather than written, process. So far, it’s just talk.