Elements of a Lawsuit


Different types of lawsuits make their way through state and federal court systems every year -- and each has its own distinct set of elements that you, as the plaintiff, must prove against the defendant to win your case. The most common types of civil lawsuits are general negligence, breach of contract, libel and slander, and fraud and misrepresentation. If you think you have the grounds to sue someone, consult an attorney as soon as possible. Each type of case has different time limits for filing a lawsuit.

General Negligence

  • A general negligence lawsuit alleges that you were injured by someone's conduct. The elements necessary to prove a negligence case are duty of care, breach of that duty, proximate cause and actual injury or harm. Generally, everyone has a duty to use ordinary care concerning the physical safety of all other persons, as well as the safety of their property. Failure to use ordinary care involving another is a breach of that duty. Proximate cause means that the defendant’s action must be a direct cause of your injury, and the injury was a natural and probable result of the negligence. But if there was no resulting actual injury or harm, your lawsuit will not survive.

Breach of Contract

  • A breach of contract lawsuit involves a claim by one party to a contract that the other party did not live up to the agreed-upon terms. Such a lawsuit must first prove that a contract existed between the plaintiff and the defendant, then that the plaintiff performed his obligations as agreed upon, while the defendant failed to perform or breached his obligations as agreed upon -- and the plaintiff suffered damages as a direct result of that breach.

Libel and Slander

  • Defamation is a false statement of fact communicated to a third party that causes damage or injury to the subject of the statement. Written defamation is called libel, while spoken or oral defamation is called slander. Defamation can be either intentional or negligent. If you are the subject of a false statement, you must prove that the person who made the false statement communicated or published it to a third person. You must also prove that the defendant identified you in the false statement, and that your reputation suffered because of the statement. Statements of opinion do not qualify as defamation.

Fraud and Intentional Misrepresentation

  • Fraud may be either a criminal or a civil offense. In a civil lawsuit alleging fraud, you first must prove that the defendant made a false representation as a statement of fact. Then you must show that the statement was untrue, the defendant knew the statement was untrue when he made it and the defendant made the statement with reckless disregard for the truth. You must also prove that the intent of the defendant’s statement was to persuade you to act on it and that your actions were based on the false statement, which caused you to suffer injury or damage.


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