The Civil Justice System
Updated: Feb 21
The current system to resolve disputes among its citizens in Arkansas and America at large is the civil justice system. The civil justice system comprises of a judge who is tasked with making sure that the law is followed, and a jury who is tasked with determining the facts of a case. The judge, as part of his gatekeeping role, decides whether a piece of evidence gets presented to the jury. This gatekeeping process ensures that reliable, true, and accurate evidence gets presented to the jury.
How Do We Have a Civil Justice System?
The Seventh Amendment in the United States Constitution grants us the right to a jury trial for civil disputes. The Seventh Amendment says:
"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
One of our original Bill of Rights included the right to trial by jury, and it is a most sacred right. Thomas Jefferson said "I consider trail by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which government can be held to the principles of its Constitution."
The Arkansas Constitution, written in 1874, also grants us the right to trial by jury. In Article 2, Section 7:
"The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate, and shall extend to all cases at law, without regard to the amount in controversy...."
Thus, our Constitutions at the state and federal level grant us this sacred right.
How does the Civil Justice System work?
Through the adversarial system (which means that each side gets to advocate their position), each side is allowed to present evidence through testimony or documents to the jury who then decides who or what is more right than wrong.
In the civil justice system in Arkansas, the burden of proof is "by a preponderance of the evidence", which simply means "is something more likely right than wrong" or "is something more likely yes than no".
This burden of proof is lower than the criminal justice system because our Founders wanted us to be absolutely sure (have no reasonable doubts) before the government takes away someone's life and liberty. But in the civil justice system, the burden is lowered so citizens are able to have their disputes heard and decided upon.
There are many types of disputes that the civil justice system hears: breach of contract, landlord-tenant, and personal injury to name a few. Here at Gates Law Firm, we focus on personal injury cases. These types of cases occur when a harmful thing happens without intending to do the harmful thing or doing the harmful thing on purpose.
Because we focus on personal injury cases, we typically represent a person bringing a claim who is called the Plaintiff. The person defending the claim is called the Defendant. The Plaintiff has to prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" three things: (1) liability; (2) damages; and (3) proximate cause.
If the Plaintiff does not prove ALL three things, then the Plaintiff loses. The Defendant does not have to prove anything for the Plaintiff to lose.
If the Plaintiff does prove ALL three things, then the Plaintiff wins, which primarily includes money damages.
Why does the Plaintiff win Money Damages in the Civil Justice System?
Tragically, there is no way to bring back someone who has died due to someone else's fault, and there is not a way to completely erase an injury from someone's mind or body. The best that the civil justice system can do is compensate someone for their harms and losses through money damages.
Is the Civil Justice System Fair?
As James Madison said, "[i]f men were angels, no government would be necessary". Thus, inherently, there is no perfect system on this side of heaven. To answer if the civil justice system is fair, we should analyze all the other systems throughout history on how citizens settled disputes among themselves.
(1) Eye for an eye
(2) Vigilante justice
(3) Criminal justice system
(4) Increased governmental regulations
(5) Civil justice system
"Eye for an eye" may seem like the most fair because there is an even trade. But this type of system does not promote restoration or reconciliation. It can lead to years and years of resentment and continued harm. Think of the Hatfields and the McCoys. They kept one upping each other in their quest to get an eye for an eye.
Vigilante justice, which is where ordinary citizens take the law into their own hands, may seem like a fair system too. But this type also has significant flaws. Similar to "eye for an eye", this system does not promote restoration or reconciliation. Further, it does not promote a unified code of conduct among the citizens. Whoever is the strongest wins, which is simply unfair.
Criminal justice system has its role in society, and when bad actors do harm intentionally, the police and prosecutors hold those bad actors accountability. The flaw here is what about those harmful things that were not intended? Does that mean that any time a bad event happens that we throw someone in jail? If an elderly grandmother runs a red light and hits someone with her car because she was distracted by the radio, should she spend the rest of her life in jail? When there is not the intent to do harm, we should not take someone's life and liberty away from them.
Increased governmental regulations has its role as well. However, we can be shackled by governmental red tape in our free market society.
That's why the civil justice system is the best avenue for personal injury cases. A wrongdoer can be held accountable to the harmed person by compensating them for their harms and losses.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm by a bad actor, call us today. You don't have to bear this alone. We got your back. Call Gates Law Firm today to discuss your legal options.