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Business LibreTexts

16.2: Criminal versus Civil Law

  • Page ID
    4085
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Distinguish between criminal law and civil law, and understand the roles of plaintiffs and defendants in both criminal and civil cases.
    2. Define a tort, explain tort law, and discuss an intentional tort.

    In the case of George McGovern and his Stratford Inn, we saw what sort of legal entanglements could discourage even a veteran lawmaker from pursuing a modest dream of business ownership. What about you? How easily discouraged would you be? Put yourself in the following scenario, which could happen to anybody:


    When you were in high school, you worked part time and over the summers for your father, a house painter. Now that you’re in college, you’ve decided to take advantage of that experience to earn some money during your summer vacation. You set yourself up as a house-painting business and hire your college roommate to help you out. One fine summer day, the two of you are putting a coat of Misty Meadow acrylic latex on the exterior of a two-story Colonial. You’re working on the ground floor around the door of the house while your roommate is working from scaffolding over the garage. Looking up, you notice that, despite several warnings, your roommate has placed his can of paint at his feet rather than fixed it to the ladder bracing the platform. You’re about to say something yet one more time, but it’s too late: He accidentally kicks the bucket (so to speak), which bounces off the homeowner’s red sports car, denting the hood and splattering it with Misty Meadow. As luck would have it, the whole episode is witnessed by the homeowner’s neighbor, who approaches the scene of the disaster just as your roommate has climbed down from the scaffold. “Man, you must be dumber than a bag of hammers,” says the neighbor to your roommate, who’s in no mood for unsolicited opinions, and before you know what’s happening, he breaks the neighbor’s nose with a single well-placed punch.
    The homeowner sues you and your roommate for negligence, and the neighbor sues you and your roommate for assault and battery(Moran, 2008).

    Clearly, being an employer—even of just one person—isn’t nearly as simple as you thought it would be. What should you have known about the basics of employment law in the state where you intended to paint houses? What should you have known about tort law? What about tax law? If you have to pay damages as a result of the homeowner’s negligence claim, can you at least deduct them as business expenses?

    Welcome to the legal environment of business—the place where business interacts with the legal system. Besides the fact that these interactions are usually quite complicated, what valuable lessons should you learn from your experience once your case has been adjudicated (resolved in court)? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that your roommate is liable for negligence in kicking over the paint bucket, but you may be dismayed to learn that you are, too. When it comes to the claim of assault and battery, your roommate is also liable for that, but you may be protected from liability. As for the damages that you’ll probably have to pay in order to settle the homeowner’s negligence suit, you’ll be pleased to learn that you can indeed write them off as “ordinary” business expenses (unless they’re paid by your insurance company).

    As we work our way through this chapter, we’ll look a little more closely at the types of law involved in your case, but we’ll start by observing that, in at least one respect, your roommate’s predicament can be more instructive than yours. That’s because assault and battery violates statutes established by two different types of law—criminal and civil.