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River Of Law Iii Duty Of Engineers To Third Parties

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.451.1 - 4.451.39

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Paper Authors

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Nancy White

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2606 TS/1

River of Law III – Duty of Engineers to Third Parties

Prof. Nancy J. White, J.D. Assistant Professor Department of Construction Science Texas A & M University

1. Introduction

No doubt law and the American legal system are mysterious to those not routinely associated with it. The law and the American legal system is a living process. A process whereby the law is debated and tested by different courts, eventually being hammered out after much trial and error, no pun intended. Perhaps therein lies the mystery, that law is a process not some type of “truth” or “rule” or even some concrete thing. Law is a continually changing process. Like all processes it is alive and continues to grow and develop and become more complex. It does not often stand very still for us to study. What is studied today may not exist tomorrow. The process needed to develop a particular law may span decades, even hundreds of years. Law has most of the characteristics of a living system. That is, it grows, develops and gives birth to new law.

People, who try to “learn” the law in order to use it to their advantage, or gain an understanding of the regulatory environment of business, are doomed to failure. Only people who learn the legal process can succeed in understanding the law and properly putting it to work for them. This paper explains in basic terms the legal system in operation in the United States of America, and provides an interactive project designed to facilitate an understanding of the American legal system and the process by which law is developed.

2. Characteristics of the Legal System in Operation in the United States

The two major characteristics which give the United States legal system its character are: 1) it is a common law system and 2) it consists of fifty-one separate, independent court systems in simultaneous operation.

A. Common Law System The basic characteristic of a common law system is that decisions by appellate and supreme court judges (not trial judges) become law for subsequent cases containing similar facts and issues. The common law system developed in the early Middle Ages in England, at a time when little if any statutory or governmental law existed. The law came from the “customs” or “common” practices of the people. At that time the decisions of the judges would be written

White, N. (1999, June), River Of Law Iii Duty Of Engineers To Third Parties Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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