Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by courts and similar tribunals in the course of deciding cases, in which the law was analyzed using these cases to resolve ambiguities for deciding current cases. These past decisions are called "case law", or precedent. Stare decisis--a Latin phrase meaning "let the decision stand"--is the principle by which judges are bound to such past decisions. These judicial interpretations are distinguished from statutory law, which are codes enacted by legislative bodies, and regulatory law, which are established by executive agencies based on statutes. In some jurisdictions, case law can be applied to ongoing adjudication; for example, criminal proceedings or family law.
In common law countries (including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), the term case law is a near-exact synonym for common law. It is used for judicial decisions of selected appellate courts, courts of first instance, agency tribunals, and other bodies discharging adjudicatory functions. (Full article...)
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For examples of noted cases, see Lists of case law. Following is one example of such a noted case:
Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928), is a leading case in American tort law on the question of liability to an unforeseeable plaintiff. The case was heard by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest state court in New York; its opinion was written by Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo, a leading figure in the development of American common law and later a United States Supreme Court justice.
The plaintiff, Helen Palsgraf, was waiting at a Long Island Rail Road station in August 1924 while taking her daughters to the beach. Two men attempted to board the train before hers; one (aided by railroad employees) dropped a package that exploded, causing a large coin-operated scale on the platform to hit her. After the incident, she began to stammer, and subsequently sued the railroad, arguing that its employees had been negligent while assisting the man, and that she had been harmed by the neglect. In May 1927 she obtained a jury verdict of $6,000, which the railroad appealed. Palsgraf gained a 3-2 decision in the Appellate Division, and the railroad appealed again. Cardozo wrote for a 4-3 majority of the Court of Appeals, ruling that there was no negligence because the employees, in helping the man board, did not have a duty of care to Palsgraf as injury to her was not a foreseeable harm from aiding a man with a package. The original jury verdict was overturned, and the railroad won the case.
A number of factors, including the bizarre facts and Cardozo's outstanding reputation, made the case prominent in the legal profession, and it remains so, taught to most if not all American law students in torts class. Cardozo's conception, that tort liability can only occur when a defendant breaches a duty of care the defendant owes to a plaintiff, causing the injury sued for, has been widely accepted in American law. In dealing with proximate cause, many states have taken the approach championed by the Court of Appeals' dissenter in Palsgraf, Judge William S. Andrews. (Full article...) (more...)