What is the “Common Law”?

In the development of what is called the “common law”, courts in the Western world would decide the just resolution of a dispute between people, and for that particular situation, the first decision would be guidance for all subsequent decisions on similar issues. For instance if a man killed his neighbor’s cow, the court might decide that the just resolution would be for the wrongdoer to compensate the owner of the cow it’s fair market value. That initial decision would be “the law” for that kind of a dispute and would be entitled to “stare decisis”, a kind of status giving the decision some weight as precedent in deciding future cases.

The next case that comes along may be a situation in which a man killed his neighbor’s cow, but when he is pulled into court, the alleged wrongdoer might point out that the neighbor’s cow was eating his hay, and that the owner of the cow repeatedly refused to control his animal. In that situation the court might decide it is just to give the owner of the cow the body of his animal, but not order compensation for its death since the animal was a nuisance to its neighbor.

What’s important to realize here is that even though the first decided case was the common law in existence when the second case came along, the factual situation was different, and the equities were different. The second situation called for a different solution in order to be fair to all parties, and thus the common law evolves.

That’s why it is dangerous to take a lawyer’s blurbs and opinions from the internet and apply them to your particular situation.

You should not rely on the internet for legal advice!
People hear what they want to hear. They tend to interpret what they hear and apply general comments to their own personal situation as justification for actions that they already want to take. It is much better to ask someone who is not personally involved for an objective and honest opinion, even if it is not what you want to hear.

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What is the “Common Law”?

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