civil liability

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Civil liability is a legal obligation that requires a party to pay for damages or to follow other court-enforcements in a lawsuit. Different from criminal liability, which is often brought by the State to redress a public wrong, civil liability is usually brought by a private party to sue for damages, injunctions or other remedy. For example, in a car crash case, the injured party can sue the driver and ask for monetary damages.

A civil liability is usually a contractual liability or a tort liability. A defendant of a civil liability is either “liable” or “not liable”. If a defendant is liable, the court will order the defendant to pay or follow another remedy to the plaintiff, not to face the risk of prison as in many criminal cases. The standard of burden of proof in a civil liability case is lower than in a criminal liability case. While criminal cases require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”, civil liability often may only require proof by “preponderance of the evidence”.

[Last updated in October of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team