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What Is a Civil Penalty?

Civil litigation often involves a person filing a lawsuit against another due to the harm suffered by another’s wrongful acts. These wrongful acts referred to as torts provide injured or harmed individuals the basis for filing a lawsuit and claiming some form of damages. Thus, civil penalty is a form of monetary compensation for whatever harm or injury was suffered by a person in a civil litigation case.

It is necessary that this wrongful act be established and validated through the definitions provided by the codification of legislation, regulations, and decrees. Once established, a plaintiff may request that the court award him or her damages for having suffered. These damages are not a form of criminal punishment since the intent of civil penalties is to compensate for whatever loss, harm, or injury was suffered. Thus, the purpose of civil penalty is to ensure the welfare of the parties who have been harmed rather than punishing the liable party.

Because civil penalties are not some form of criminal punishment, the court does not require that the plaintiff prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is liable for the harm or damage caused. The court requires only clear and convincing evidence in order to demand that civil penalties be met by the defendant. Thus, the judge must be convinced that the defendant was more than likely 50% liable for the injury or harm suffered by the plaintiff. Once this has been proven, the court then provides a commensurate civil penalty, which must be met by the defendant under the terms and conditions stipulated by the court.


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