CLASSIFICATION OF LAW.
There are many ways to subdivide the law. One way is to distinguish between substantive law and procedural law. Substantive law sets out the rights and duties governing people as they act in society. Duties tend to take the form of a command: "Do this!" or "Don't do that". An example is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. In it Congress told employers that they must not discriminate among people in hiring and employment on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin.
Substantive law also establishes rights and privileges. An example is the freedom of speech granted by the U.S. Constitution. Another is the right you have to defend yourself if physically attacked – the so-called right of self-defence.
Procedural law establishes the rules under which the substantive rules of law are enforced. Rules as to what cases a court can decide, how a trial is conducted, and how a judgement by a court is to be enforced are all parts of procedural law.
Another important distinction is between criminal and civil law. Criminal law defines breaches of duty to society at large. It is the society, through government employees called public prosecutors or district attorneys, that brings court action against violators. If you are found guilty of a crime, such as theft, you will be punished by imprisonment or a fine. When a fine is paid, the money goes to the state, not to the victim of the crime.
Duties owed by one person (including corporations) to another are established by civil law. For example, we have a duty to carry out our contractual promises. Tort law defines a host of duties people owe to each other. One of the most common is a duty to exercise reasonable care with regard to others. Failure to do so is the tort of negligence.
Suit for the breach of a civil duty must be brought by the person wronged. Generally, the court does not seek to punish the wrong but rather to make the wronged party whole through a money award called damages. For example, if someone carelessly runs a car into yours, that person has committed the civil wrong (tort) of negligence. If you have suffered a broken leg, you will be able to recover damages from the driver (or his or her insurance company). The damages will be an amount of money sufficient to repair your auto, to pay your medical bills, to pay for wages you have lost, and to give you something for any permanent disability, such as a limp. Damages for "pain and suffering" are also usually awarded.
Although generally the civil law does not aim to punish, there is an exception. If the behaviour of someone who commits a tort is outrageous, that person can be made to pay punitive damages (also called exemplary damages). Unlike a fine paid in a criminal case, punitive damages go to the injured party.
Sometimes, the same behaviour can violate both the civil law and the criminal law. For instance, a party whose careless driving causes the death of another may face both a criminal prosecution by the state and a civil suit for damages by the survivors of the deceased party. If both suits are successful the person would pay back society for the harm done through a fine or a sentence, and compensate the survivors through the payment of money damages.