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Abuse of Process

Civil wrongs that don't result in physical harm can fall into a category called "dignitary torts," which are torts that have caused harm to a person's reputation or dignity. A few examples of dignitary torts are defamation, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process.

Abuse of process refers to a person using the legal system in a way that is not necessarily serving the underlying legal action. Instead, with abuse of process, another purpose is served. Although this tort may sound similar to malicious prosecution, an abuse of process claim can be brought against someone even if the underlying cause of action for the lawsuit was valid.

This article will provide you with the general elements of an abuse of process claim and how it compares to a malicious prosecution claim.

The Elements of Abuse of Process

Abuse of process is an intentional tort that arises when a person deliberately misuses a court process that is not justified by the underlying civil or criminal legal action. As with most torts, the elements that a plaintiff must prove in order to win their case will vary from state to state. The typical elements that a plaintiff must prove in an abuse of process lawsuit are:

  • The existence of an ulterior motive or purpose in using the process
  • An act in the use of the process that is not proper in the regular prosecution of the legal proceedings

For example, if a person uses a deposition for an ulterior motive unrelated to the lawsuit, then an abuse of process claim may be available. Again, the lawsuit itself may be perfectly valid, while the cause of action involved may also be perfectly valid. But because the deposition in this example does not serve the purpose of the lawsuit, it's likelier that one could successfully argue that an abuse of process is taking place.

Abuse of Process vs. Malicious Prosecution

Abuse of process and malicious prosecution are closely related, but each requires the plaintiff to prove different elements.

A person may have a claim for malicious prosecution if someone maliciously starts or continues a criminal or civil proceeding against them without having probable cause. Abuse of process, on the other hand, occurs when there is a valid reason or probable cause for the lawsuit, but a legal tool or process has been misused for ulterior purposes.

In order to be successful in a malicious prosecution lawsuit, the plaintiff must also show that the legal action was dismissed in favor of them. In comparison, an abuse of process lawsuit can be brought against someone regardless of whether there is an underlying legitimate cause of action for the legal action and whether or not the original case was dismissed.

For more information and resources related to this topic, you can visit FindLaw's section Emotional Distress, Privacy, and Dignitary Torts.

Learn More About Abuse of Process by Speaking to a Lawyer

It can be frustrating to feel like someone is taking advantage of legal processes to get something they want from you or to cause you mental anguish. If you believe that you've been the victim of an abuse of process or any other type of tort and would like to learn about your legal options, you may want to contact a skilled personal injury attorney in your area.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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