A plaintiff begins a lawsuit by formally alleging that the defendant violated a
legal duty owed to the plaintiff. Historically, the common law rules for pleading
a cause of action were very complex. These rules have been greatly simplified,
but have a vestigial remnant in the form of the prima facie case that a plaintiff
must plead in most states. A prima facie case is a formal statement of the
facts that support the plaintiff’s claim for compensation or other legal relief. For
example, in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must allege that:
1. The defendant had a duty to treat the plaintiff in a proper manner.
2. The defendant breached this duty.
3. The breach of the defendant’s duty proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
4. A certain sum of money paid to the plaintiff will compensate for the injuries.
These allegations must be supported with a recitation of facts surrounding the
plaintiff’s injuries, but the plaintiff need not present expert opinion to support
the prima facie case.