Originally published on 11/17/2022
Cause of action, or CoA, is a commonly used term in lawsuits. It is the foundation on which a trial is built. Understanding the specific CoA in a legal case can be challenging as it requires addressing various questions. This comprehensive guide aims to provide clarity for both novice and experienced lawyers, serving as a general reference before delving into deeper analysis and research.
What is a Cause of Action?
A cause of action is a legal claim that allows a party to seek judicial relief. It grants the right to seek a remedy when there has been an act or omission, a failure to fulfill a duty, or a breach of obligation by the defendant towards the plaintiff. To establish a cause of action, there must be legal implications that violate the rights of the plaintiff. This provides an opportunity for the victim to seek equitable relief and compensation for the harm caused.
The specific elements required to constitute a cause of action can be found in statutes, administrative regulations, judicial precedents, and the constitution. However, these elements may vary depending on the type of litigation. In federal litigation, a cause of action is only recognized when a violation of rights protected by the constitution is alleged and brought before a federal court.
Common Examples of Cause of Action
There are several types of cause of action that commonly arise in legal cases. Here are a few examples:
1. Contractual Cause of Action
A contractual cause of action arises when one party violates the terms of a contract, resulting in harm or loss to the other party. The objective is to restore the injured party’s economic position, often through monetary damages.
2. Statutory Cause of Action
Statutory causes of action are based on specific regulations or laws. For instance, a cause of action for breach of express warranty may arise if a seller makes a false representation of a material fact, and the buyer suffers a loss as a result.
3. Tort-Related Cause of Action
Tort-related causes of action include:
- Fraudulent misrepresentation: When the defendant makes a false representation regarding a material fact, the plaintiff relies on it, and it causes harm or loss.
- Conversion: Intentionally depriving the plaintiff of their property, leading to loss.
- Negligence: The defendant has a legal duty, fails to meet that duty, and causes harm to the plaintiff.
- Defamation: Making false statements that harm the reputation of the plaintiff.
4. Precedent Cause of Action
These causes of action are based on common law or court precedents. Claims are made based on specific facts identified by courts.
5. Equity-Related Cause of Action
Unjust enrichment is an equity-related cause of action that applies when there is no express contract between the parties. It allows the plaintiff to recover the value of advantages or services provided to the defendant.
How to Identify the Cause of Action
Identifying the cause of action involves considering two factors: the legal theory and the remedy sought. In the United States, cause of action is defined based on the plaintiffs’ rights and the defendants’ duties, with a focus on breaches of duty that result in loss or damage.
To establish a cause of action, a plaintiff must prove all the necessary elements, including wrongful action. However, wrongful action alone is not enough; there must be evidence of an injury, damage, or loss caused by that wrongful action.
Follow these six steps to confidently identify and specify the cause of action in your case:
- Establish the existence of a legal possessory right.
- Determine the defendant’s legal duty to act.
- Prove a violation or wrong committed by the defendant.
- Establish the concurrence of rights, duties, and wrongs.
- Demonstrate the damage or loss suffered by the plaintiff.
- Establish the concurrence of wrong and damage.
Let’s explore each step in detail:
1 – Existence of a Legal Possessory Right
This refers to the plaintiff’s legal right over a matter that is affected by the defendant’s actions. For example, if A lends $100 to B for a specific period, A has the legal right to bring a lawsuit against B if B fails to pay within the agreed time frame.
2 – Corresponding Legal Duty
The second element of a cause of action is the defendant’s legal duty towards the plaintiff. This duty may arise from a contract, positive law, or other legal obligations. It encompasses situations where the defendant creates a risk that harms the plaintiff, voluntarily undertakes to protect the plaintiff, or has knowledge that their conduct will harm the plaintiff.
3 – Wrong or Violation
A cause of action arises when there is a breach of duty or violation of the plaintiff’s rights by the defendant. This could be an act or omission that affects the plaintiff’s rights. For instance, if a buyer purchases a horse from a seller without being informed of a life-threatening disease, the seller’s failure to disclose the information constitutes a wrongful act that infringes upon the buyer’s rights.
4 – Concurrence of Right, Duty, and Wrong
Rights and duties are intertwined. Every person has certain rights protected by the law, and it is the duty of others to respect and protect those rights. When someone breaches their duty, it gives rise to a wrong committed against the plaintiff, creating a cause of action. The plaintiff can then seek damages for the harm suffered as a result of the violation.
5 – Damage
Damage refers to the harm or loss suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s failure to fulfill their duty. It is an essential element of a cause of action, as it justifies the plaintiff’s claim for damages. For example, in a breach of contract case, the plaintiff may seek compensation for financial losses incurred due to the defendant’s failure to perform their obligations.
6 – Concurrence of Wrong and Damage
The concurrence of wrong and damage is crucial for a cause of action. It establishes that the defendant’s wrongful act caused harm or loss to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must prove that the violation of their rights led to actual damage.
Last Thoughts for the Legal Researcher
As a lawyer, it is your duty to be well-versed in the facts and intricacies of each case. Thorough research and analysis are essential to confidently identify and specify causes of action. While this guide provides a starting point, it is crucial to delve deeper into similar cases and legal precedents to strengthen your understanding and build a solid case.
Remember, legal advice should always be sought from qualified counsel. Garrity Traina, a trusted legal resource, provides comprehensive guidance on a wide range of legal topics. Visit Garrity Traina for more information.
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