Tips & Tactics
Legal Prejudice ... What is it?
With prejudice? Without prejudice? What's the difference? What is legal prejudice anyway? How can it affect you and your lawsuit?
There are several aspects to this important word, but they all come down to pre-judging a thing. That's where the word comes from. To judge a matter without seeing all the evidence.
If a case is dismissed "with prejudice", the court is satisfied there's no need to see more evidence. The court has seen enough. The matter is judged. The issues are settled. And, if the plaintiff tries to bring his case again, the court will refuse to hear it.
If a case is dismissed "without prejudice", however, then the court is willing to see more evidence, to reconsider the issues, to give the matter another chance to be tried.
The concept of "prejudice" also applies to evidence rulings. Some facts do more to inflame than inform. For example, in an automobile negligence case, a bloody shirt or shocking photograph of a dead child's mangled body may cause a jury to rule emotionally, ignoring other facts that might show the defendant didn't cause the accident. The prejudicial value of the offered facts outweighs the probative value of those facts, i.e., the shock outweighs the proof. In such cases (if a timely objection is made) the court may exclude such prejudicial facts, thus forcing the jury to concentrate more heavily on liability, instead of jumping to conclusions based on the horror of the injuries. (If no timely objection is made, however, the court may allow the prejudicial facts, and an innocent defendant may be held liable for damages he or she did not cause!)
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Next week's Tips & Tactics: "Legal Presumptions"
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