What is Burden of Proof and Why do You Care?


I get calls on occasion from folks who tell me the facts of their case and are under the impression that just because the event that injured them happened, that must be enough to sue the other party. Unfortunately, that’s not the way this works. In the court system, whenever a case is filed, there is always at least one party which has responsibility for moving that case forward in the system. When talking about personal injury cases, it is nearly always the injured party (known as the Plaintiff in the court system) who starts the legal process in the court by filing a Complaint against the negligent party whose actions caused their injury (known as the Defendant). Because the Plaintiff is suing the Defendant, the Plaintiff has responsibility for producing the evidence to show the factfinder (usually a jury) that the Defendant was negligent in his or her actions and is responsible for the Plaintiff’s injuries. The evidence that is presented consists of witness testimony, photographs, medical bills, medical records, etc. Then it is up to the jury to decide if the Plaintiff’s evidence has met the elements of the claim being brought by the Plaintiff.

So what’s this burden of proof? In a civil case, the Plaintiff has the responsibility to prove their claims by a “preponderance of the evidence.” The jury instruction defining the preponderance standard indicates that it means the evidence must “prove that it is more probably true than not.” That’s still somewhat confusing, so the easiest way to think about the preponderance standard is couch it in terms of whether the Plaintiff’s evidence has persuaded the jurors that it is “more likely than not” that the Defendant’s actions caused their injuries and other losses. Reducing this to a percentage, if the Plaintiff’s evidence persuades the jury that it is 50.1% likely that the Defendant was negligent and caused the Plaintiff’s injuries, then their verdict should be on behalf of the Plaintiff.

Unfortunately, in this area of the law it is very difficult to have the jury follow the preponderance standard. Jurors do not like to have doubts and with the preponderance standard there can be a lot of doubt. Some folks also think this standard is unfair because it is too low. Because of this, it’s important to have an attorney who understands the dynamics of the jury system and how to talk to jurors to discover their opinions in order to find out if they will be fair. We understand jury dynamics and while the vast majority of cases settle without ever being heard by a jury, you don’t want to be in that 3% to 5% of Plaintiffs whose cases proceed to trial and have an attorney who isn’t well versed in talking to jurors.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, call our office for a free initial consultation at 719-633-6620