We are all subject to thousands of laws every day. Almost all business transactions are governed by some kind of law, as well as criminal laws to keep us safe. The source of our laws is varied, but knowing where they come from is important for understanding the laws and how they can be changed.
What is common law?
Common law is the development of laws over time by judges and courts. These types of laws are not codified, meaning they are not enacted by legislative or government authority. Common laws can change over time as society changes and judges and courts adjust to societal needs.
For example, trespassing laws are common law. Ohio law does not generally hold landowners liable for injuries or harm suffered by a trespasser. This law has never been passed by the state legislature. Instead, over the last 100 years or more, courts have determined that landowners should not be held responsible for people who are not on the property by permission. Courts and judges have decided that it would not be in the interest of our society to allow trespassers to successfully sue landowners when they are injured while trespassing.
About 10 years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court made an adjustment to the common law regarding trespassers. In response to the death of a child who trespassed onto a neighbor’s property and entered a neglected swimming pool, the court amended the law to allow the landowner to be liable to trespassing children in some specific situations. The justices on the courts found that protecting children is so important to our society that landowners may have an obligation to protect those children even when trespassing.
What are statutory laws?
Statutory laws are those that are enacted by a legislature. The laws of Ohio are contained in the Ohio Revised Code, and the law of the country in the United States Code. Legislatures can enact laws that override common law. For example, traditionally, common law made landowners liable for customers who come onto their property and are injured or harmed by a dangerous condition on the farm. The rationale was that if you are bringing someone onto your property and profit from them, you should make sure the property is completely safe. Recently, the Ohio legislature enacted a law that prevents agritourism operations from being liable for accidents related to inherent risks associated with being on a farm. The new statute replaces the old common law.
Regulations are another source of law
When legislatures pass laws regarding policy, there are often many details that need to be developed by the agency administering the law to make sure the intent of the legislature is carried out. An example of regulations can be seen with the USDA-Farm Service Agency. Congress passes a farm bill that outlines the general policies Congress wants for farm payments. USDA then makes rules that allow FSA to implement the policies, and ensure producers are aware of the requirements and restrictions in participating in the various programs. Even though regulations are enacted by a government agency and not the legislature, they essentially have the force of law. Courts give a high degree of deference to agencies in making and enforcing the regulations.
Moore is an attorney with Wright & Moore Law Co. LPF. Email him at [email protected] or call 740-990-0750