What Is Civil Law?
In most parts of the United States, civil law has become synonymous with common law, relying on prior court decisions to determine the outcome of new cases. The governing principle involved is Stare Decisis, which means that the outcome of a case depends upon the outcomes of prior similar cases. An attorney who practices civil law in San Francisco, CA is called a civil law attorney.
Civil Law vs Criminal Law
Civil law and criminal law serve entirely different purposes in our United States legal system. Civil law is for resolving disputes and providing compensation to someone injured by another’s acts. Criminal law is for preventing undesirable behavior and punishing those who commit an act deemed illegal by society. Civil law in San Francisco, California requires the assistance of a civil law attorney, while criminal law requires a criminal attorney.
In California civil law, it is the injured party who brings a lawsuit through their civil law attorney. In criminal law, it is the government that files charges against an individual. A violation of criminal law is considered to be a crime against the state or federal government, as a whole, and is a violation of public law rather than private law. In contrast, civil law cases are concerned only with private law. In some cases, a victim may be entitled to file a criminal complaint, entrusting the legal system to punish the wrongdoer with legal prosecution, while also bringing an individual civil lawsuit to receive compensation for the damages done to them.
Another important difference between civil and criminal law in San Francisco, CA is the standards of proof that are required to reach a verdict. A plaintiff’s civil law attorney only needs to prove a civil law case by a preponderance of evidence, meaning that is more likely than not likely that the plaintiff’s allegation is true. In stark contrast, the standard of proof in criminal law proceedings is much higher. In a criminal case, the state must prove their case beyond any reasonable doubt. The reason for the higher standard in a criminal case is because a person’s very freedom is at stake.
Types of Civil Law
Tort Law: A civil wrong done upon one person by another, resulting in compensation to the injured party.
Contract Law: Agreements between parties, which each party is required to act on to avoid a civil violation known as contract violation.
Property Law: Damage to, deprivation of, or trespassing upon either personal or real property.
Family Law: Marriages, annulments, child custody, adoption, child support, paternity testing, and any other issue pertaining to families.
Liebeck v. McDonald’s
The most well-known example of modern civil law remains this familiar case, where Stella Liebeck, age 79, purchased a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through. After dropping the coffee on her lap, she suffered third-degree burns, requiring surgeries and skin grafts. She filed a civil lawsuit under tort law. The jury found that the product was defective but also found Liebeck twenty percent at fault for her own injuries, and reduced her compensation accordingly.
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