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What is Malicious Prosecution? – a Detailed Discussion

If a criminal or civil case is prosecuted wrongfully, the case’s defendant could be able to sue the complainant for malicious prosecution. But before proceeding to any other complex discussion, let us define first the meaning of malicious prosecution. The Findlaw article entitled Malicious Prosecution provides this information for you.

Malicious Prosecution: The Basics

Malicious prosecution occurs when one party has knowingly and with malicious intent initiated baseless litigation against another party. This includes both criminal charges and civil claims, for which the cause of action is essentially the same. The main difference between claims based on criminal and civil actions has to do with evidence. For example, mental suffering is usually considered an element of general damages in a claim based on malicious criminal prosecution, with no special proof required. But for claims based on civil actions, the plaintiff must be able to prove quantifiable damages.

Most states allow recovery for claims based on civil suits as long as the plaintiff (the defendant in the original case) is able to prove malicious intent and lack of probable cause. But some states require some direct interference with, or injury to, the plaintiff apart from the mere hassle of answering a civil complaint. For example, defamation resulting from a malicious lawsuit, such as lost business from a damaged reputation, typically would be considered a compensable injury.

Elements of Malicious Prosecution

Malicious prosecution is a claim that involves a wrongful death case, which enables a wrongfully-sued individual to take legal action and get damages against the plaintiff who sued with no proper cause.

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Car travelling in the dark.

Malicious prosecutions take place for various reasons, including the desire of a plaintiff for groundless revenge, attempts to close down competing companies, and illegal efforts to compel a defendant to change behaviour or cooperate to avoid suffering expensive legal payments. Essentially, malicious prosecution takes in the wrongful use of our justice system to oppress, harass, or punish another individual.

Suing somebody for incorrect personal reasons, with legal justification, isn’t only morally wrong, it is illegal. Malicious prosecution is one-way defendants get justice when a claim is unlawfully filed against them.

Now if you have been wrongfully punished, harassed or oppressed, these are the things you need to know regarding malicious prosecution. Elements of a Malicious Prosecution Claim by Ross Law has the info.

To prove malicious prosecution, the claimant (who was generally the defendant in the allegedly malicious action which prompted the malicious prosecution suit) must prove all four of the following elements:

  1. The commencement of a civil (or criminal) legal action or proceeding.

“Commencement” of a proceeding generally means filing a lawsuit. Malicious prosecutions can be either criminal in nature (in which case the defendant in the malicious prosecution case is generally the government) or civil (in which case the allegedly malicious action was filed by a private plaintiff).

  1. The plaintiff (in that first action) had an improper purpose for filing the action.

An “improper purpose” for filing a legal action generally means some purpose or objective other than obtaining a judgment against the named defendant. Often, the required improper purpose is assumed if the claimant can demonstrate that the lawsuit lacked probable cause. However, the person accused of malicious prosecution does have the opportunity to prove that his or her actions were not improper — for example, by proving that (s)he was simply following an attorney’s advice.

  1. The plaintiff (in the action which is the subject of the malicious prosecution claim) had no probable cause to believe the action was founded on proper legal grounds.

The short version of the test is that the court will ask whether a reasonable person (or attorney, in the case of legal counsel) would have believed the case had legal merit.

Elements of Malicious Prosecution

To prove that someone is prosecuting you wrongly, the claimant (usually the defendant in the malicious action which urged the malicious prosecution claim) should prove the following elements:

  1. The commencement of a criminal or civil proceeding or legal action.

A proceeding’s “commencement” often means filing a case. Malicious prosecutions can either be naturally criminal (the defendant in such case is the government) or civil (a private plaintiff filed the malicious action).

2. In the first action, the plaintiff had an improper purpose in filing the action.

For filing a legal action, an “improper purpose” commonly means some objective or purpose other than getting a verdict against the defendant. The necessary improper purpose is often assumed only if the claimant can show that the case required probable cause. On the other hand, the individual accused of malicious prosecution has the chance to demonstrate that the accused’s actions weren’t improper — for instance, by proving that the accused was only following a lawyer’s advice.

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car collision with a bicycle rider

3. The plaintiff had an improper purpose in filing the action.For filing a legal action, an “improper purpose” commonly means some objective or purpose other than getting a verdict against the defendant.

The necessary improper purpose is often assumed only if the claimant can show that the case required probable cause. On the other hand, the individual accused of malicious prosecution has the chance to demonstrate that the accused’s actions weren’t improper — for instance, by proving that the accused was only following a lawyer’s advice.The plaintiff (the malicious prosecution’s subject) does not have probable cause to think the action was set up on proper legal

4. The plaintiff (the malicious prosecution’s subject) does not have probable cause to think the action was set up on the proper legal basis.

The court will inquire whether a reasonable individual (or lawyer) would’ve believed that the case had lawful merit.

5. The individual claiming malicious prosecution (usually, the proceeding’s defendant that started the malicious prosecution claim) succeeded in the malicious action or even had such action dismissed with a decision in favour of him or her.

People can file a malicious prosecution case only if they were successful in defending against the case which they claim was malicious. And by definition, if the complainant succeeded the initial action, the defendant can’t claim the initial action was truly malicious. The reason is that if the complainant succeeded, the action was seemingly based on proper grounds.

Essentially, if you got sued and then lost, and need to pay the damages, and/or if you were a convict of criminal charges, then you can’t sue the complainant in that criminal or civil action for malicious prosecution.

On the other hand, if you got sued and won, and you think the claim was wrongful, then you must consult a skilled attorney at once to see whether or not you can file a claim for malicious prosecution.

Learn more about malicious prosecution by clicking here.