Civil law is related to private rights and remedies, which are sought by civil actions as contrasted with criminal proceedings. Civil cases are usually disputes between private citizens, corporations, government agencies and other organizations, which arise either from intentional breaches of contract or torts. Torts are negligent actions to persons such as fraud, libel, invasion of privacy, infringement of patent, trespass, false imprisonment, nuisance, defamation, deprivation of civil rights, etc. Contracts are formal written agreements between two or more people to fulfill some actions.
Breaches of contract and torts are different. Contracts enforce duties that have been set out in parties’ agreements and if one party fails to fulfill their duties under the agreement it is breach of contract. But torts are the break of duty of any member of society to refrain from behaviour that may cause harm to other people. Suppose your neighbour has left his bonfire uncontrolled. It has been burning for some time and at last damages your house. In this case there is no contract between you and the other party and it is unlikely anyone will be prosecuted for a crime unless intention or recklessness can be shown. In order to get compensation for such injury or damage, you should start an action in the law of torts.
There are some differences between torts and crimes. The essential difference is that the former1 are the subject of civil law disputes between private individuals, and the latter2 are prosecuted by the state. For example, simply entering land without the owner’s permission is not a crime in English law. It is, however, the tort of trespass. The police are not allowed to take any action before the trespasser impolitely disagrees to leave or commits certain crimes. In order to prevent trespass or to get compensation for any inconvenience, the owner will have to start a civil action in tort.
Most often the party who brings the suit (a plaintiff) is asking for money for some wrong that has been done. The plaintiff starts by filing the paper, which is called the complaint. The party who is sued (a defendant) may have to defend himself against the claim. A plaintiff ought to show that a duty of care existed between himself and the defendant at the time of the tort; that this duty of care has been breached; and that damage or injury has been suffered because of this. In his turn the defendant has to show that he is not responsible for the injuries, either factually or legally. In some civil suits the defendant must prove that it was the plaintiff’s irresponsibility that caused the injuries.
The plaintiff and the defendant are directly affected by the outcome of the trial. One wins, the other loses. Sometimes substantial amounts of money are involved. It is paramount, therefore, that the parties do everything within legal limits to help their case. The outcome of a civil case is not punishment, it is a remedy. Damages are awarded for the mental distress, which was caused by an accident, as well as the physical sufferings. The successful plaintiff obtains a sum of money, which is to repair his hurt.
1 the former – первые (из упомянутых ранее)
2 the latter – последние (из упомянутых ранее)