Civil Law - Our Private Issues: Part 4
The last type of law that I will be discussing in this paper is Civil Law, which concerns our private matters including family, workplace, and litigations. Civil law is different from criminal law in a few aspects. First, guilty or not guilty is replaced with liable or not liable, and we use the terms plaintiff and defendant for the party starting the lawsuit and the accused respectively. Most importantly, most civil cases are tried without a jury, and even if there is a jury, only 51% of them need to vote liable in order to have a liable verdict. As we look at our breakdown of our laws from the previous sections, civil laws fall into private law instead of public (criminal, constitution). Since civil law is not regarding any criminal actions, if the defendant is liable, there are no sentences, but instead, they have to pay (usually monetary) the plaintiff for their loss they claimed on the litigation. In this section, I will be talking about lawsuits and how they might be controversial with different types of laws.
First, what are torts? A tort is a civil wrong action (as opposed to a crime) in which the victim seeks compensation from the wrongdoer. Tort law affects many aspects of modern life including property and real estate holdings, business, family, pets, sports, and even personal freedom and reputation. Overall, the primary purpose of tort law is not to punish the defendant, but to compensate for injuries or damages suffered by the plaintiff. For instance, one type of tort is Negligence torts such as car accidents, slip and falls, and malpractice. For malpractice, it is most commonly seen in the law and medical field, but first, what is malpractice? Malpractice is any type of negligent professional activity that results in failure to act legally in a professional activity which causes injuries or loss. This could include disregarding previous patient history/surgical errors that result in unnecessary deaths or injuries or failure to follow the facts of the case and cause adverse effects for the client.
The controversial aspect of civil law is the fact that you can get sued for the same case when tried in a criminal case and have a not guilty verdict. For instance, in the infamous O.J. Simpson case, he was acquitted for both count of murder, but however, subsequently, the Brown and Goldman families filed a civil lawsuit, and Simpson was found responsible by a preponderance of the evidence for both deaths. As a result, he has to pay the damages he caused to the families. If you look closely at this, you will notice something does not sound right. Mr. Simpson was found not guilty in criminal court, but somehow found liable in civil court for the same matter. Part of the reason is because of the low rate that the jury needs in order to decide on an outcome (95% for criminal and 51% for civil). Due to this inconsistency, it might be unfair to those who were not guilty, but still held responsible for repaying damages.
The Coffee Case
One of the most infamous and wild civil cases in the U.S. is the Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants case. Stella Liebeck was a 79-year-old woman in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She spilled her coffee when sitting in a parked car. Even though the spill was her fault, she argued that the coffee was unreasonably hot that almost killed her. She didn't want to go to trial, but demanded that McDonald's repay her for the medical bills (around $20,000). However, McDonald's was only willing to pay $800, so she filed a lawsuit in 1994 against McDonald's. In this case, Liebeck was the complainant and McDonald's was the Respondent. Liebeck argued that the coffee she spilled was so hot that it caused third degree burns that nearly caused her to die. She had to go through surgery. This case is significant because McDonald's apparently got many previous complaints about their hot coffee and they know about this. However, McDonald's kept on making their coffee dangerously hot; McDonald's even claimed that their customers liked their coffee that hot. Initially, Liebeck only asked for around $20,000 to cover her medical expenses. However, the jury decided that the way McDonald's was handling the coffee was so irresponsible that Liebeck should settle for 2.9 million in order to send a message to the company. Eventually, Liebeck settled for under $600,000 and McDonald's started changing the way they make their coffee. Through this entire McDonald’s case, we can get a true sense of the fact that civil cases can really be about anything since you are suing someone else.
Family law in a nutshell basically have to deals with marriage and divorce, child care, and family relationships. The ways we deal with marriage and divorce in Canada promotes justice because there are many procedures to getting a divorce and marriage. For instance, in order to get married, there are minimum age limits, and you have to follow a proper procedure to get legally married. In order to get divorced, there are also many procedures that you have to follow regarding child support, spousal support, child custody, and the division of assets. The law makes sure that after your divorce, you would have the proper support that you may need in order to inflict as little change as possible.
The truth is that our current justice system that we have is no doubt corrupted and unjust. It is beyond a doubt that our justice system is heavily influenced by the social, sexual, and class discriminations that fuel our society. Of course, we have progressed a long way since the 1700s. We, as the next generation of humans have realized our past mistakes and are slowly beginning to rectify our actions. We have implemented the due process progress to ensure a more fair trial, we have opened up voting to all men and women of different races, we have recently seen more Indigenous representation in the government such as the first Ingenious Supreme Court judge of Canada, we have accomplished all these tasks within a relatively short period of human history, and although we should feel proud about increased minority representation in both government and society, we cannot stop here. There are still way more injustices in our society that we need to address such as LGBTQ rights and womens’ privacy to name a few. The truth is that when you ask the question “Do our current governing system promote justice?” The answer is “maybe.” There are too many factors that could go wrong in a perfect government system and this is the reason why there are no perfect governing systems. Throughout history, humans adapted to their environments and changed with age so that we don't become extinct. Justice is a living concept and many times, when we objectify concepts, they become judged upon as good or bad. If you look at other parts of the world today, there are countless governing systems and styles that work with their population of individuals; one style of government might not fit every country’s needs. With that said, there is not a satisfying answer to this question “Do our current governing system promote justice?” We have a justice system that doesn’t hinder or promote justice. We have a justice system that works for us, and that’s all there needs to be.