Major Areas of Civil Law


Civil law encompasses a wide range of legal areas governing disputes between individuals and organizations, where compensation or other relief may be awarded to the injured party. Here is a list of major areas of civil law with brief explanations for each:


Contract Law: This area of law governs legally binding agreements between parties, setting out obligations and rights. Contracts can range from simple transactions like purchasing goods, to complex agreements such as employment contracts or licensing agreements. When one party fails to fulfill their contractual duties, the other party may seek legal redress. Examples include breach of sales contracts, service agreement disputes, and lease violations.


Tort Law: Torts are civil wrongs that cause someone to suffer loss or harm. This area of law allows the injured party to claim compensation for damages inflicted by the actions or inactions of another. Key sub-areas include:


    • Negligence: Claims arise when one's failure to exercise reasonable care results in harm to another person, such as in car accidents or medical malpractice.
    • Intentional Torts: Acts committed with the intent to harm, such as assault, battery, or false imprisonment.
    • Strict Liability Torts: Where liability is imposed regardless of fault, typically in cases involving inherently dangerous activities or defective products.


Property Law: Governs the rights and duties of individuals with respect to the possession, use, transfer, and treatment of property, both real (land and buildings) and personal (all other property). Property law encompasses:


    • Real Estate Law: Dealing with matters such as property purchases, lease agreements, and zoning.
    • Intellectual Property Law: Protecting creations of the mind, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.
    • Personal Property: Issues related to the ownership and transfer of movable items and possessions.


Family Law: This area deals with family matters and domestic relations. It includes:


    • Marriage and Divorce: Legal procedures for getting married and dissolving a marriage, including alimony and division of marital assets.
    • Child Custody and Support: Determining where children will live and how they will be financially supported after their parents' separation.
    • Adoption: The legal process to adopt a child and the rights and obligations that follow.


Employment Law: Covers the rights, obligations, and regulations between employers and employees. Topics include:


    • Labor Relations: Union organization, collective bargaining, and industrial action.
    • Workplace Safety: Occupational Safety and Health regulations and compliance.
    • Employment Discrimination: Unfair treatment in the workplace based on race, gender, age, religion, or nationality.


Civil Rights Law: Protects individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. It includes litigation on:


    • Discrimination: Challenging unequal treatment in various facets of public life.
    • Freedom of Speech and Religion: Protecting individuals' rights to express themselves and practice their religion.
    • Privacy Rights: Addressing unauthorized use of personal information and intrusion into personal affairs.


Environmental Law: Encompasses statutes, treaties, regulations, and common law that operate to regulate the interaction of humanity and the natural environment, aimed at reducing the impact on ecosystems. It covers:


    • Pollution Control: Laws regulating air and water quality and waste management.
    • Resource Conservation: Legal frameworks for protecting forests, minerals, and other natural resources.
    • Animal Protection: Ensuring the ethical treatment of animals and preserving endangered species.


Trust and Estate Law: Involves the legal aspects of wealth distribution and management, including:


    • Wills and Trusts: Instruments for specifying the distribution of one's assets after death.
    • Probate: The court-supervised process of authenticating a last will and testament if the deceased made one.
    • Estate Administration: Managing and settling the estate of the deceased.


Consumer Law: Focuses on protecting the consumer from unfair business practices, defective products, and fraud. This includes:


    • Consumer Protection: Laws that safeguard buyers of goods and services and the public at large from unfair practices in the marketplace.
    • Product Liability: Holding manufacturers and sellers accountable for distributing unsafe products.


Corporate Law: Deals with companies and the people who own them, focusing on:


    • Corporate Governance: Rules that control the organization's actions and policies.
    • Securities Law: Regulating the offer and sale of corporate stocks and bonds.
    • Mergers and Acquisitions: Laws governing the process of companies consolidating or acquiring other companies.


Bankruptcy Law: Provides for the reduction or elimination of certain debts and can provide a timeline for the repayment of nondischargeable debts over time.


Admiralty (Maritime) Law: Governs maritime questions and offenses. It's a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans.


Health Law: Covers healthcare law, health insurance, patient rights, bioethics, and medical malpractice.


Education Law: Deals with both public and private schools, and is divided into students' and teachers' rights, school safety, discrimination, and special education.


Entertainment Law: Covers everything from contracts to intellectual property. It's especially important for issues like licensing and protecting the rights of TV, music, and film professionals.


International Law: Deals with rules established by custom or treaty and recognized by nations as binding in their relations with one another.


Note that different areas of civil law are often interrelated. Meaning, a single legal issue may involve multiple areas of civil law.


For a closer look at civil law and civil disputes generally, check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook.