Although there exists the legal concept of Moral Damages (Daños Morales) in Costa Rica’s Civil Law System, which is the legal system adopted by Costa Rica consistent with that which exists in Spain, a concept of damages which would be similar to awarding Punitive Damages for Gross Negligence in an English Common Law jurisdiction such as Canada, or the U.S., there is nothing similar to the English Common Law System of Tort Law which exists, outside of criminal sanctions, in Civil Law, to promote the concept of being a “good neighbour”, that is to have the care and well-being of your fellow citizen in mind when you act.

In Costa Rica, damage awards for negligent behaviour are generally limited to reimbursement for medical expenses and lost income, associated with any personal injuries sustained by a victim.

Virtually nothing is awarded for compensation for pain and suffering, except in the most extreme cases where Gross Negligence can be shown.

It can be said, that awards for pain and suffering in some Common Law jurisdictions, such as California, have now exceeded any expectation of realistic compensation. This, of course, is a matter for the Courts to assess and police, as has been done by the Supreme Court of Canada limiting such awards within the jurisdiction of the Canadian Courts.

The development of the concept of negligence, or what has been referred to as the “good neighbour principle” in the English Common Law System, arose in the 1920’s with the famous English case of Donoghue V. Stevenson. In that case, a Bottler of a bottle of ginger beer was found liable for damages for the discovery by a restaurant patron of a decomposed snail in a bottle of ginger beer which had come from the Bottler’s bottling plant. The House of Lords held that the Bottler had a duty of care to the consumer of the quality of their beverages to insure that they were fit for consumption. As a result, the “good neighbour principle “ was born and that where acts of negligence were committed against the upholding of this principle, a victim would be entitled to be compensated by an award of damages consistent with the injury sustained.

One can see in day-to-day life in Costa Rica, how the lack of such a legal principle as the “good neighbour principle” has, in my opinion, an effect on the behavior of its citizenry.

Driving habits in Costa Rica are a good example that most readers would be able to relate to as being somewhat lacking in common respect and care for other motorists.

I am of the opinion that the basic lack of the existence of a system of tort law embodying the “good neighbour principle” fuels a level of hostility between its citizenry which need not exist.

Over time, I believe that the adoption of a legal system in Costa Rica which respects the “good neighbour principle” would be advantageous for Costa Rica Society as a whole.

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Richard Philps
Attorney Richard (Rick) Philps is a Canadian citizen, naturalized as a citizen of Costa Rica. Rick practiced law in Victoria, B.C., Canada as a member of the Law Society of British Columbia, for fourteen years, prior to moving to Costa Rica in 1998. Rick then earned his Bachelor of Laws and Licensing Degrees (Civil Law), with Honours, and a Post-Graduate Degree in Notary and Registry Law, from the Metropolitana Castro Carazo and Escuela Libre de Derecho Universities, in San Jose. Rick is a member of the Costa Rica College of Lawyers, and practices law in Costa Rica in the areas of real estate and development, corporate, commercial, contract, immigration, and banking with the Law Firm of Petersen & Philps, located in Escazu, a western suburb of San Jose. To contact Attorney Rick Philps about hiring him as your Costa Rican Attorney, please use the following information: Lic. Rick Philps - Attorney at Law, Petersen & Philps, San Jose, Costa Rica Tel: 506-2288-4381, Ext. 102; Email: Website: