Criminal Versus Civil Law

Criminal law is enacted to protect the welfare and safety of the public by determining what is legal and illegal. A person charged with a felony is brought to court and is charged by the state. If a person is accused of murder, the court record will show, for example, Thomas Jones vs. State of Illinois. Although the defendant is accused of murdering an individual, the crime is considered to be perpetrated against society or the state. Offenses that are criminal are most commonly punishable by imprisonment. Examples of criminal offenses include murder, robbery, larceny, kidnapping, rape, and arson.
Civil law, also called private law, is enacted to protect the rights of individuals, as in contract disputes, divorce, family law, inheritance law, contract law, and tort law (which covers malpractice lawsuits). Civil law is the most commonly exercised type of law in ambulatory care. The punishment for civil offenses is usually payment of a monetary award to the individual whose rights were violated. Criminal charges are brought by the state; civil claims are brought by individuals. In civil law, the dispute is considered to be between individuals and the state is not represented as the accuser in the court docket. If a physician is accused of malpractice, the court record will show, for example, Jayne A. Veins, MD vs. Marjorie Wells. The accuser is the individual patient. If found guilty, the physician owes monetary compensation to the patient, not to the state where she holds a license to practice medicine. The physician may, however, be investigated by the state if the state suspects that the physician has engaged
in criminal behavior.