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Civil Law

A civil wrong may be defined in statute, or it may be established by previous court decisions. Civil lawsuits involve personal injuries, business disputes, land deals, libel and slander, and various other commercial interests. Civil law actions must be brought by an attorney hired by the injured party (the plaintiff) against the alleged wrongdoer (the defendant). The parties in a civil case may be individuals, corporations, or the state itself. Because medical malpractice is a civil law action, physicians are frequently preoccupied with civil law concerns. These lawsuits can be risky since the violation of many physician duties carries criminal penalties. These are infrequently prosecuted, but they can cost a physician his or her license and freedom. The violation of a law will also make it virtually impossible to defend any civil actions brought as a consequence of the violation.

The civil law is concerned with the peaceable resolution of disputes between individuals. Physicians often ignore the importance of this peacekeeping function. Being sued for medical malpractice is an unpleasant experience, but it is much preferable to being gunned down in the hospital corridor by an irate patient. This is an extreme example, but it has occurred. The civil courts are an imperfect but essential safety valve. It has even been argued that the delays and rituals of the process, which decrease its economic efficiency, increase its ability to cool passions and prevent violence.

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