The Burden of Proof: Why It Matters and How to Meet It
There are few legal concepts as fundamental as the concept of the burden of proof. If the law imposes a burden of proof on you and you fail to meet it, you can lose your lawsuit. In the context of a personal injury case, failing to meet your burden of proof means that you cannot receive the compensation you need for your injuries.
You will not know for certain if you have met the burden of proof until you present your case at trial. Through a verdict, a judge or jury tells you whether you have met this standard. Nonetheless, there are actions you and your personal injury attorney can take before trial to help you meet the burden of proof.
An In-Depth Look at the Burden of Proof
In any lawsuit, there are two participants: the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is sometimes called a petitioner. This party claims that another person or entity (the defendant) did something wrong.
The plaintiff is the party who files the lawsuit against the defendant. It is their responsibility to prove that the law entitles them to receive some sort of compensation.
In most civil cases, the relief sought by the plaintiff is monetary compensation. However, depending on the case, the plaintiff could also be looking for other forms of compensation:
- In a child custody case, a plaintiff may seek a favorable parenting plan
- As part of a trademark infringement case, a plaintiff might ask for an injunction
- In a real estate case, a plaintiff might want an order directing the sale to go through
- As part of a criminal case, the state is usually the plaintiff and seeks a conviction and sentence
The plaintiff is the party who claims the defendant wronged them. Because of this, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. A defendant usually does not have any burden of proof in a case unless the defendant:
- Has a counterclaim against the plaintiff
- Is raising certain defenses
- Requests the court give the plaintiff a different judgment than what they are asking for
Otherwise, a defendant generally does not have any burden of proof in a case. Instead, they attack the plaintiff’s case by arguing that the evidence the plaintiff presents is insufficient to meet the burden of proof.
Different Burdens of Proof for Different Types of Cases
There are three main burdens of proof in the court system. The type of case determines which of the following burdens of proof the plaintiff must meet:
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the local, state, or federal government, which is represented by a prosecutor. The prosecutor bears the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty of a crime or crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.
Suppose that the prosecutor cannot prove the defendant’s guilt to a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In that case, the court cannot find them guilty of those charges.
There is no certain way to quantify what is a reasonable doubt and what is not. Whoever decides the case, whether a judge or jury, determines whether the prosecutor’s evidence has proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Clear and Convincing Evidence
This burden of proof is lower than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the plaintiff’s evidence need not be so strong that it erases any reasonable doubt from the judge’s or jury’s minds. Instead, “clear and convincing evidence” means that the evidence leaves the judge or jury with a firm conviction or belief that the plaintiff’s allegations are true.
Hearings wherein a parent’s parental rights are at stake commonly require clear and convincing evidence. The plaintiff’s evidence must meet this clear and convincing standard. If it does, the court could terminate the parent’s rights.
A Preponderance of Evidence
Nearly every personal injury case requires the injured plaintiff to meet the preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard is lower than the other two standards.
“Preponderance” means “the largest part.” Therefore, a plaintiff meets this burden when their evidence suggests their claims are more likely true than not. You have met this burden if a judge or jury believes it is more than 50% likely your claim is true.
The Burden of Proof in Action
Suppose that you have been hurt in a car accident and file a lawsuit against another party to recover your losses. As the plaintiff, you will succeed in your case if you can prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence.
Doing so requires that you offer evidence that supports each of the elements of liability according to this burden of proof. In other words, your evidence and witnesses need to show it is more likely true than not that:
- The other person owed you a duty to act in a careful manner
- That person violated this duty by acting negligently or recklessly
- The individual’s actions led to your accident and injuries
- The defendant can compensate you for your harm with a specific sum of money
If you fail to meet the burden of proof on any of these claims, your case will likely fail. For instance, you will not receive any compensation if you cannot show it was more likely true than not that the other person’s actions caused your injuries. This is true even if your evidence shows the other person’s actions were extremely careless.
How an Attorney Helps You Meet Your Burden of Proof
The only way to meet your burden of proof is to present evidence and witness testimony that sufficiently convinces the judge or jury. An experienced attorney at The Joel Bieber Firm could take these crucial steps on your behalf. Contact our firm today.