What Is Civil Law?

scales of justice

Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC is a civil trial law firm, which means we exclusively handle civil claims. However, few people outside of the legal profession understand the difference between a criminal trial lawyer and a civil trial lawyer. In today’s blog, we’ll clarify the difference between civil law and criminal law, and by the end, you’ll understand why civil law is so vital to a healthy society.

The Difference Between Criminal & Civil Law

The United States is governed by two legal codes: the civil law code and the criminal law code. In general, civil law governs individual rights and mediates disputes between private entities, which can include businesses, organizations, or most commonly, individuals. By contrast, the criminal code governs individual conduct and the punishment of illegal conduct. The purpose of the criminal code is to mediate between the private entity and the state.

To put it simply:

  • Civil law is concerned with resolving situations where a private entity has wronged another private entity.
  • Criminal law is concerned with punishing entities who have transgressed against the state.

How Civil Law Is Practiced

Civil law is intended to resolve disputes between private entities, which could mean an individual vs. an organization, an individual vs. another individual, or an organization vs. another organization. As a result, the conduct at issue in a civil claim doesn’t necessarily need to be illegal in the criminal sense; the conduct just has to have harmed another person or business.

There are dozens of practical differences between civil and criminal law, but those differences fall into seven main categories:

  • Conduct under examination
  • Punishment
  • Burden of proof
  • Statutes of limitation
  • Who brings the case forward
  • How the appeals process works

Lower Burden of Proof

The burden of proof for a civil claim is also lower than in a criminal trial. Defendants in criminal law must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil law, the plaintiff needs only a preponderance of the evidence, i.e., it must be more likely than not that their claims are true. In some cases, the plaintiff doesn’t need to prove the defendant was solely at fault for their harm; they need only prove that the defendant is at least partially responsible.

Who Can Bring Forward a Civil Claim?

Civil claims can be brought forward by anyone who believes they have been wronged by another. In civil law, that’s the definition of a plaintiff: someone who initiates a case (or in whose name the case is brought forward). The entity against whom they bring the case is called the “defendant.”

Defendants exist in criminal law, but only the state can bring a case forward. While it is equivalent to the plaintiff under civil law, the state is known as the “complainant” in criminal proceedings.

Why Civil Claims Are Important

It should be noted that plaintiffs can be victims of a crime. But just because your wrongdoer is facing criminal charges doesn’t mean you’re going to recover any damages; the state’s concern is punishing the guilty for breaking the law, not helping victims recover what they’ve lost. Only a civil claim gives individuals the opportunity to make their wrongdoers responsible for the harm they’ve suffered, whether that’s physical, financial, or emotional.

That’s why civil law is vital for people’s well-being: without civil law, people would have no way to seek remedies for their losses after an accident. Additionally, companies would be allowed to cause widespread harm without accountability. In many cases, wrongdoing committed by businesses can only be addressed in civil court.

Get Justice with a Pennsylvania Civil Trial Lawyer

HHR has been the premier advocate for Central Pennsylvania since 1922—a full century. People have turned to us time and time again because we get results and because we know what they’re facing. Our experience with every kind of injury and accident, from truck accidents to defective products to medical malpractice, means we know how to fight for what you need.

Speak with us today in a free consultation: call (888) 498-3023 or use our short online form to discuss your options and how we can help.

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