Civil law deals with the rights and responsibilities that people have towards each other. It is not enforced by the police but directly by individual people.
You can sue and be sued under civil law, usually for a monetary sum. This means that you can use civil laws to protect yourself and try to get money (called ‘damages’) when someone has done something wrong to you. However, if you do something wrong to another person, they might be able to take you to court.
There are three main types of civil law you should be aware of: contract law, negligence, and defamation. However, many other types of civil law are dealt with in later sections, such as family law, employment law and wills & estates.
4.1 Contract law
A contract is an agreement between two people who promise to do certain things. We make contracts regularly, such as when you’re buying a mobile phone or getting a credit card. Many contracts are made without writing too, such as buying food at a café or buying clothes at a department store. Contracts can be oral or written.
A person can be sued for breaching a contract when they do not do what is promised in the contract. For example, if you sign a contract with a builder to do some work on your house and in exchange you promise to pay them $2,000, if you only pay them $1,000 then they can sue you to recover the additional $1,000 you promised. If you are found to be liable for a breach of contract, you must pay the other party what was promised under the contract.
Negligence is where someone acts in a careless way and as a result causes harm to another person. If someone has been negligent, such as if they host a party and allow too many people into the party causing someone to be trampled, then they could be liable for negligence if:
- someone else has been injured physically or psychologically; or
- property has been damaged; or
- someone suffers financial loss.
If this occurs, the person who was negligent will have to pay the other party money to compensate for their injury or loss.
Negligence depends upon whether the person took ‘reasonable care’ in the circumstances.
The law on defamation provides that you cannot say untrue, false or malicious comments about someone. If you say these things about another person and other people hear these things, whether you are out in public or posting a status or comment online, you could be sued for compensation. The main purpose of defamation law is to protect people from harm to their reputation. Something is defamatory if it would lower the way other people in the community think about that person’s reputation.