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The common law is the body of legal rules created over time by judges as they issue written opinions resolving individual lawsuits. The opinions serve as precedents to guide the resolution of future similar cases. The common law is to be contrasted with positive law, which consists of statutes passed by legislatures.

The principal subject areas of the common law are contracts, property, and torts. Common law originated as customary rules of social conduct that came to be enforced in the English courts. It also applied in the British colonies and was adopted by the fledgling United States, whose courts adapted it as necessary to suit the American experience.

The common law has three distinctive features that define it and set it apart from positive law. First, ...

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