Unit 4: Lawsuits and Liability: The Civil Justice System

How does the civil justice system hold people and corporations accountable for their actions? How does civil law compare and contrast with criminal law? What is the role of civil litigation and liability in U.S. society? Is U.S. society too litigious?

In this unit, students are introduced to civil law and the legal structures designed to protect people from individuals and corporations that cause harm. Using a famous liability case as a case study, students compare and contrast the goals, professional roles, and standards of proof in civil and criminal law. As they take on the roles of different stakeholders in a civil case and bring the case to trial, they consider the role that settlement plays in the civil justice system and analyze the ways in which interest groups may affect public perceptions of the legal process. Students also reflect on the role and impact of civil litigation in U.S. society.

Unit Project

Through immersion in a civil lawsuit, students learn how the civil justice system can both promote and at times impede justice. Playing the roles of plaintiff, defendants, and lawyers at three different law firms, students prepare for and participate in settlement negotiations and a civil mock trial. Teams consider claims of negligence against an electronics store and strict product liability against a cell phone manufacturer and retailer, and then use legal reasoning to identify relevant facts, calculate damages, develop legal arguments, engage in settlement negotiations, present opening and closing statements, and examine witnesses. After judgment is rendered on the case, students reflect on the impact of civil litigation on U.S. society.

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