Definition of Civil Law

Learn about civil law, its characteristics, examples, and its role in holding companies accountable. Discover the McDonald’s hot coffee case and key statistics.


Civil law is a legal system originating in continental Europe and adopted in most countries worldwide. It is based on codified laws and statutes rather than judicial decisions.

Characteristics of Civil Law

  • Clear and comprehensive legal codes
  • Emphasis on written laws over precedent
  • Separation of law into specific branches

Examples of Civil Law

One example of civil law is contract law, which governs agreements between parties. Another example is family law, which deals with issues like divorce and child custody.

Case Study: The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case

In 1992, Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee on herself. The jury awarded her $2.9 million in damages, highlighting the role of civil law in holding companies accountable for customer safety.

Statistics on Civil Law

In the United States, civil cases outnumber criminal cases by a significant margin. According to the American Bar Association, about 20 million civil cases are filed each year compared to 1.6 million criminal cases.

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