Case Law

The case law referred to earlier in this chapter consists of the written decisions of the various courts. Typically, trial courts do not generate case law. Even though a trial court judge may issue a written opinion (also called a decision) in a given case, that decision has very limited application. Decisions rendered by trial judges are only binding in regard to that specific case. They do not necessarily have any controlling effect upon any other trial judge within that trial court and do not have any controlling effect on any trial judge in any other trial court. Trial courts are the lowest tribunal and as such any written decisions rendered by trial court judges are of limited application.

Many cases decided by trial courts are decided by juries. Juries do not render written decisions explaining their analysis of the case, but rather simply render a verdict. That verdict in a civil case would be either in favor of the plaintiff or in favor of the defendant. If the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff and there is an amount of money being sought by the plaintiff, then the jury would fix the amount of the monetary award (i.e., value the damages). If there is no jury deciding the case, then the judge may enter a verdict or a judgment order fixing the amount of damages or granting one party the form of relief that is sought.

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