Elements (of a case)

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Elements of a case are the component parts of a legal claim or cause of action that a plaintiff must prove to win a lawsuit. Each legal claim consists of “elements” that the plaintiff must prove in order to prevail. The plaintiff can prevail in a civil case only if each element of the legal claim is proved by a “preponderance of the evidence

For example, here are the elements of a “negligence” claim: 

  1. The existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff
  2. The defendant's breach of that duty
  3. The plaintiff's sufferance of an injury
  4. Proof that defendant's breach caused the injury (typically defined through proximate cause)

When a plaintiff brings a civil lawsuit against a defendant, they file a court document called a “complaint” that identifies the cause(s) of action and alleges the specific acts of the defendant that violated the law. In a negligence claim, the plaintiff would allege that the defendant had a duty and that they breached it, that their breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and that damages were sustained as a result. 

For information on elements of a criminal case, see elements of a crime here.

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team