Common law refers to systems of law that are developed through court cases decisions and judicial rulings. These rulings are called "case law." These are set in contrast to other systems of law, such as civil law, which depend mainly on statutes and codes that are developed through the legislative system.
The United States is considered a common law country, as it derives most of its legal principles and practices from case law. However, the U.S. judicial system does have some civil law aspects, especially when it comes to procedural aspects of the court systems (such as deadlines and sentencing guidelines).
Which Areas of U.S. Law Involve Common Law/Statutory Law Aspects?
Areas of law where the distinction between common law and statutory law is important include:
- Contracts law (i.e., contracts case law versus the Uniform Commercial Code)
- Family law (esp. with regards to common law marriage)
- Criminal Laws
- Trademark Law
- Personal injury law
In a personal injury context, common law provides many of the legal definitions for broad, overarching tort concepts, such as negligence, and strict liability. U.S. tort common law has also evolved some very specific legal concepts, such as the idea of a "zone of danger" in an emotional distress claim.
Major Differences between Common Law and Civil Statutory Law?
One of the main differences between the two is that civil law statues can often be developed, passed, and modified more quickly. This is because they often depend solely on the legislative process for approval. In contrast, common law tends to evolve more slowly, since court rulings can sometimes take months or even years to be issued.
Common law is often excellent at providing background on legal concepts and defenses. Case law also allows lawyers to analogize, or draw comparisons between their current court case and previous cases (i.e., precedent). In comparison, civil law statutes are often very efficient at regulating aspects of the law that don’t require much legal analysis, such as filing deadlines, automatic sentencing guidelines, limits on damages, and regulation of health/safety standards.
Depending on the case and jurisdiction, either common law principles or statutory codes may apply. In some cases, both may apply in some way.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Legal Issues?
Understanding how the common law system works can sometimes be difficult. Common law systems tend to be quite complicated; it can also be difficult to understand which laws apply to a given case. You may need to hire a defective products lawyer for help with any personal injury laws. Also, if you need to appear in court, your lawyer can represent you during the process.