Legal Word of the Day
Prima Facie
Entry: Prima Facie
Pronunciation: pree – muh – fey – scha
Definition: sufficient evidence to raise a rebuttable presumption of fact that something did or did not occur
Prima facie is a Latin term that literally means "at first appearance" or "at first sight." In the legal context, prima facie evidence is that which is enough to show that some fact or sets of facts did or did not occur, unless rebutted (i.e. proven otherwise).

A key to keep in mind is that prima facie evidence does not prove the case. Rather, it’s just enough evidence to show the certain facts likely did or did not occur. As such, prima facie evidence does not need to be conclusive. In other words, it can be rebutted.

In many legal proceedings, one party has a burden of proof, which requires that party (i.e. called the proponent or moving party) to present prima facie evidence for all the essential elements in the case. If the proponent cannot set forth prima facie evidence, the claim will usually be dismissed without any need for a response by other party. In other words, prima facie evidence must first be presented by the proponent to show enough evidence for a valid legal claim. For example, a key stage in a civil case occurs when one party files a summary judgment motion – which essentially argues that there is not enough evidence to set forth a prima facie case. Let’s go over an example to illustrate the concept.

Assume you go to bed at night, hear thunder and lightning while in bed, and wake up in the morning to find the outside pavement and grass wet in your neighborhood with puddles of water throughout the streets. Here, there is prima facie evidence that it rained over the night. Now, you could rebut the presumption that it rained last night if you can show some other reason why it is wet everywhere outside.

As another example, let’s look at the 4 elements generally needed to prove civil battery including: (i) the defendant acted, (ii) with intent, (iii) to cause harmful or imminent apprehension with another, and (iv) harmful contact directly or indirectly resulted to another or third person. Assume Rob punches John at a bar and gives John a black eye. John then files a lawsuit against Rob for civil battery. Here, there is prima facie evidence that Rob committed civil battery because all the elements are met. However, Rob could attempt to rebut the presumption of prima facie evidence presented by showing that Rob had a seizure which caused his hand to uncontrollably hit John. In other words, Rob did not intend to cause any contact or apprehension to John because the seizure was uncontrollable.

NOTE: Prima facie is often confused with the term res ipsa loquitur. Res ipsa loquitur is a legal doctrine that means the facts make it self-evident that something did or did not occur. Res ipsa loquitur literally means "the thing speaks for itself." In other words, the key under the res ipsa loquitur doctrine is that the proponent (i.e. moving party) does not have to prove any additional facts to show that something did or did not occur because any reasonable person would immediately find the facts as shown. While under the prima facie doctrine, some minimum amount of evidence must be shown before there is enough evidence for a trial. However, both doctrines of res ipsa loquitur and prima facie can be rebutted.

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