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:
- The existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff
- The defendant's breach of that duty
- The plaintiff's sufferance of an injury
- 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]