What Is Malicious Prosecution?

If someone gets injured in a preventable accident, the victim can pursue financial compensation in the form of damages from the at-fault party. If someone wrongfully accuses another person of causing an accident while knowing he or she did not, however, this is called malicious prosecution.

You will have the ability to pursue your own cause of action against the original plaintiff as the victim of malicious prosecution. The plaintiff in the original case will act as the defendant in your current case. If you succeed in proving your cause of action, the defendant will be required to pay you for any related losses, including inconvenience and legal fees.

The Elements of a Malicious Prosecution Claim

The definition of malicious prosecution in California is a tort, or wrongdoing, in which an individual knowingly files a frivolous and unfounded lawsuit, causing damages as a result. If you believe you are the victim of malicious prosecution, you can pursue damages (compensation) from the person who filed the original lawsuit. It will be your responsibility to prove that you have grounds for this type of claim. This requires proof of four main elements.

  1. The original plaintiff (now the defendant) had no probable cause or justification to bring the claim.
  2. The defendant had malicious intent in bringing the original lawsuit.
  3. The defendant lost his or her lawsuit against you when you were the defendant.
  4. You (the current plaintiff) suffered damages due to the frivolous lawsuit.

Note that you may also have grounds to file a malicious prosecution claim if someone falsely accused you of committing a crime in California. The person who knowingly made the false accusation may be liable for your damages if you can prove that you were falsely accused, that you pled not guilty and that the charges against you were dismissed. Even though it is a prosecutor who technically brings criminal charges, you could hold the original accuser responsible.

What Is the Burden of Proof in a Malicious Prosecution Suit?

Since a malicious prosecution case is a type of civil lawsuit, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. Under California law, this means the evidence of the defendant being guilty of malicious prosecution is more than the evidence arguing the other side. In other words, you will need clear and convincing evidence that shows the defendant more likely than not caused your losses through malicious prosecution.

Evidence to support a malicious prosecution claim can include photographs, witness statements, legal records related to the first claim and expert testimony. A legal expert, for example, could testify as to the fact that no reasonable person in the defendant’s circumstances would have thought he or she had grounds to bring the underlying action against the plaintiff. This could be enough to prove your case against the defendant.

Although the burden of proof is less than in a criminal case, it can still be difficult to fulfill as a plaintiff in California. It will be up to you to convince a jury that the evidence you are presenting is more likely than not to be true and that it shows (by at least 50%) the defendant maliciously brought an unfounded claim against you.

Do You Need an Attorney?

You may need an attorney to help you bring a malicious prosecution civil claim in California. With an attorney by your side, you will not have to collect evidence of malicious prosecution or present it to a judge and jury by yourself. Your lawyer will handle the legal matters surrounding your case while you focus on recovering from the damage the frivolous lawsuit caused, such as getting your job back or repairing your reputation. Learn more about filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit, including how a lawyer can help, by contacting a personal injury attorney in Sacramento.