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The Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Civil Court Cases



In a civil court case, you (the claimant or plaintiff) have the obligation to provide information that supports your claim. This is called “burden of proof”.

If you've sustained a bodily injury from a car accident and are pursuing legal action against the other party, you are engaged in a civil lawsuit. Civil court cases involve money and do not handle criminal charges.

In this article, we'll help break down a few important legal concepts into simple terms leaving you better prepared to win your accident lawsuit. We'll cover in depth...

What is the Burden of Proof?
What is Preponderance of the Evidence?
What is Reasonable Doubt?
How Does the Burden of Proof Apply to the Other party?

Let's get started….

What is the Burden of Proof?

According to Cornell Law School, the term burden of proof is...

“Generally used to describe the threshold that a party seeking to prove a fact in court must reach in order to have that fact legally established.[1]

In other words, it's the requirement that in order for a fact to legally be considered a fact you must back it up. In criminal cases, this "who has the burden of proof " falls on the prosecution. In civil or bodily injury cases this burden is on you or your attorneys.

Meeting your burden of proof can be a complicated matter or a simple process, this largely depends on the facts of your case.

What is Preponderance of the Evidence?

After carefully reviewing all presented evidence a judge or jury is going to make a determination as to whether or not there is a “preponderance of evidence”.

The preponderance of evidence means a weight or majority of evidence. This applies to civil cases in the sense that if more than 50% of the evidence available is pointing in one direction there is a “preponderance of evidence”.

If you've demonstrated the “weight” of your evidence you've successfully carried out the burden of proof required for a victory and are likely to win the case.

How much and what type of evidence is needed to reach a preponderance of evidence you may be thinking?

The answer: It is impossible to predict. You are subject to the opinions of the court which can be fickle and unpredictable.

A seasoned attorney will be able to give you some parameters and help you estimate what is needed to get your case across the line, but there are no guarantees.

Lawyers often use the following example when trying to explain the relationship between weight of the evidence and standard of proof in a civil case .

  • Scales of Justice - At the beginning of a trial the scale is dead even. At the end, they will have tipped one direction or another. Even if you've only moved the scale to 51% weight you will be the winner.

What is Reasonable Doubt?

Most people will be familiar with the term reasonable doubt, but few understand its precise implications. Reasonable doubt is….

“Uncertainty as to a criminal defendant's guilt; the level of certainty a juror must have to find a defendant guilty of a crime.”[2]

Notice the word crime. Reasonable doubt only applies to criminal cases and for civil ( bodily injury) claims the requirement is much lower. Essentially, all you need to do is convince a court that “more likely than not” the facts are what you say they are.

Overall this “more likely than not” standard makes it easier for a civil case to be won. You don't have to erase all the doubt from people's minds just tip the scale in your favor.

How Does the Burden of Proof Apply to the Other party?

Keep in mind that at the onset the other party or defendant in a civil court lawsuit is at a slight advantage.

Why is this?

It is because there is no burden on them. You brought the claim against them. They have nothing to prove and have the option of disputing any claims you make but critically don't have to present a case.

The defendant does not have to create an alternative scenario that disputes yours, and in fact, if they don't feel like your evidence is strong enough to win they likely won't.

Of course, the other party will generally be represented by an attorney who will provide contradicting evidence and do whatever they can to poke holes in your “more likely than not” efforts. So be prepared for a struggle.

One exception to the defendant having to prove nothing is if they mount an affirmative defense. According to the Legal Dictionary, an affirmative defense is…

When a defendant is basically admitting they are guilty of which they are accused, but are offering an explanation or justification for the incident[3].

This strategy can help the other party deflect or reduce their own liability.

A prime example of this would be if you took on an assumed risk such as participating in motorsports, whereby it is not completely unexpected that a crash or injury could occur.

Summary

Understanding what the burden of proof in a civil case is not that complicated. But figuring out what it takes to have a preponderance of the evidence that is “more likely than not” is a challenge. A good attorney will help you lay out the facts and should give some estimated odds of winning beforehand. To review:

  • The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is the responsibility of the plaintiff (you) to prove your case.

  • The preponderance of evidence means which side of a dispute has more “weight” to their story or evidence.

  • Beyond a “reasonable doubt” is the criminal standard needed to convict someone of a crime. In a civil case, the bar is lower, something only needs to be “more likely than not”.

  • In a civil lawsuit, defendants start with a small advantage, which is that they have nothing to prove. They can sit back or actively dispute your evidence as they wish.


Sources:

1 - Cornell Law School
2 - Lect Law Library
3 - The Legal Dictionary


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