The world of civil law covers all cases that are not criminal in nature. The class action, negligence, human rights, libel, and securities cases are just a few examples of civil law cases. These five landmark cases have indelibly marked the American legal system. Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP draws these five cases from different areas of the law, presenting a wide spectrum of subjects.
1. Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company
This 1978 tort case exposed the negligence in the design and construction of the infamous Ford Pinto. Upon impact, these cars would sometimes catch on fire, injuring or killing their occupants. The court case showed clearly that Ford was aware of the issues before the car was released to the public. Ford had hoped to keep the price of the car at $2,000, and safety improvements that would only have cost $4 to $8 per car were rejected by upper management.
This decision showcased the importance of the jury in a civil case. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $3 million and $125 million in punitive damages, though the amount was later reduced to $3.5 million. This case warned auto manufacturers that blatant disregard for passenger safety in the name of greater profit would be dealt with severely.
2. Brown v. Board of Education
This landmark 1954 Supreme Court, civil rights case, paved the way for the desegregation of America’s public schools. The defendant made the argument that “separate but equal” education was sufficient to meet all students’ educational needs. Through skillful jury arguments, the plaintiff’s counsel Thurgood Marshall made the case that segregation itself was harmful to black children.
This case caused upheaval in the education system of the southern United States, but schools in other parts of the country were also strongly affected. Desegregation of the schools and subsequent busing programs permanently changed the landscape of the American educational system.
3. Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District
This famous 1968 free speech case found that the wearing of black armbands to represent opposition to the Vietnam War was protected by the First Amendment. Through this case, the Supreme Court found that students did not give up their right to free speech when they entered a school-owned property. The court also found that the school system should be able to restrict this type of speech when the conduct “materially and substantially” interfered with the school’s operation.
This free speech case stated that schools could not restrict student expression merely out of fear that the students’ actions would cause disruption.
4. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
This 1964 case centered around news coverage of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama. In this case, the New York Times published a news article describing adverse conditions in the city. The article contained some statements that were found to be false, but this was found to be incidental. The police commissioner of Montgomery sued the paper for libel, stating that the news coverage damaged his public reputation.
The Supreme Court found that the newspaper was not acting with malice but had instead published inaccurate information. This case was important in free speech law because it required that those suing for libel needed to prove malicious intent. A later Supreme Court case clarified the actual malice standard by stating that if a journalistic outlet did not fact check with due diligence and/or used unreliable sources, they could be sued for libel.
5. Miranda vs. Arizona
This case had a lasting impact on police interactions with those under arrest. Before the Supreme Court ruled on Miranda vs. Arizona in 1966, there were no uniform standards in place to inform those under arrest that they had rights against self-incrimination and a right to retain a lawyer before questioning. This case upheld the power of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution.
Civil Law Cases that Changed the United States
These five civil law cases helped to change the way businesses, and public entities did their work in the United States. Each of these cases has a demonstrated effect on the legal system in the United States. Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP has assembled these five cases as examples of how the legal system works to help the people of the United States.