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What is the Burden of Proof in a Civil Lawsuit?

Were you injured through someone else’s negligence and filed a civil lawsuit to hold them responsible?

Are you wondering how to prove your case to ensure you maximize your compensation?

At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys are legal advocates for victims harmed by others and can help you too.

Call our civil case attorneys at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or use the contact form to schedule a free case evaluation to tell us what happened. Our law firm will provide immediate legal advice on how to move your case forward.

The burden of proof is the cornerstone of successful civil litigation, ensuring that defendants compensate the injured victim for their damages. This legal requirement in civil court establishes which parties are responsible for presenting evidence in court to prove or disprove a claim.

Typically, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff’s shoulders to resolve their claim. The evidence provided usually involves objects, surveillance videos, documents, reports, and witness testimonies.

 

Burden of Proof to Win a Personal Injury Case

In a civil lawsuit involving personal injuries, the plaintiff has the burden of proving their case and showing the defendant’s acts were negligent according to the preponderance of the evidence.

At trial, the judge will assign different parties a burden of proof to produce evidence to allow jurors to decide the outcome. In a civil case, the judge or jury will decide if the plaintiff satisfied their burden of proof and to what extent.

In some cases, the plaintiff will be required to provide enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in most cases, only a preponderance of the evidence, a more lenient burden of proof, is necessary to win the lawsuit.

Civil Case vs. a Criminal Case

A civil case is handled somewhat differently than a criminal case in the United States. According to civil tort law, the plaintiff (the party that files a lawsuit) has the burden of proof that shows how their allegations against the defendant are true, which led to the injured party’s damages.

However, there is only a preponderance of evidence required in a civil case, which implies that it is more likely than not that the defendants’ actions or omissions caused damages and harm to the plaintiff.

There are complicated civil cases with a much higher burden of proof requiring clear and convincing evidence with a fair probability of truth. The plaintiff’s attorney has the challenge of ensuring that the quality of evidence provided to the jurors is equal to the burden of proof required to win the case.

Conversely, every criminal case in American courtrooms treats the defendant as innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution. Thus, in nearly every criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof, and the defendant never has to prove their innocence of the criminal activity.

Sometimes, the defendant chooses to prove their innocence in court in front of jurors, claiming insanity or self-defense as the reason for their behavior. However, nearly all criminal cases involve the prosecutors proving that the defendant committed the criminal act beyond a reasonable doubt.

The evidence standard burden of proof is significantly higher in cases that involve the court stripping the defendant’s freedom through incarceration.

Evidentiary Standards: A Preponderance of the Evidence not Reasonable Doubt

In the United States, the justice system sets the legal standard of proof that the plaintiff must overcome to satisfy that burden. In high-stakes cases, the plaintiff has a much higher standard burden of proof to ensure a successful outcome.

The three levels of proof in American courts include the preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, and beyond all reasonable doubts. The burden of proof in the following examples uses different standards based on different or unique circumstances in their cases.

A Preponderance of the Evidence

Most basic civil cases are based on a burden of proof involving a preponderance of the evidence, where the plaintiff demonstrates sufficient evidence to the judge and jurors that the defendant is more than 50% at fault for causing the plaintiff’s damages. The preponderance of the evidence is a much lower standard of a burden of proof.

In many cases, the plaintiff will file a civil lawsuit against the defendant to recover monetary compensation for their injuries, damages, and losses, including medical bills, lost wages, future lost earnings, property damage, pain, and suffering.

In these cases, the burden of proof requires evidence that shows the plaintiff’s claim is more likely valid than not.

Clear and Convincing Evidence

In some cases, the plaintiff filed a civil lawsuit because they seek more than financial compensation, like their civil liberties taken away by the defendant. Typically, the plaintiff will be required to provide clear and convincing evidence instead of a preponderance that involves a high probability that the accusations against the defendant are true.

Clear and convincing evidence is a higher standard of the burden of proof.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Nearly all criminal prosecution cases involve providing evidence and testimony that prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Typically, the prosecution will need to show no other logical explanation to prove someone else is responsible for what occurred. Thus, reasonable doubt is the highest standard of the burden of proof.

Many judges explain to jurors that beyond a reasonable doubt is considered “proof of such a convincing character that a reasonable person would not hesitate to rely and act upon it.” In criminal court, this is an exceptionally high burden of proof.

Judges will often instruct the jurors to make a decision based on “reasonable and common sense after a careful and impartial consideration of all evidence.” Thus, the burden of proof should demonstrate that the defendant acted in ways that someone else in the same circumstance would not.

In some cases, the burden of proof on the prosecution is too high a standard to charge criminal liability against someone in criminal court. Thus, the injured parties will file a civil case to seek justice because the legal process at civil trials has a lower burden of proof that does not require showing that there could be no other reasonable explanation.

In both civil and criminal cases, the US court system has other burdens of proof used to prove a case. These burdens include probable cause, reasonable belief as defined by the United States Supreme Court, reasonable suspicion (in a criminal context of moral certainty), reasonable indications, some credible evidence, and substantial evidence.

The Elements of Civil Cases

Many civil lawsuits are won or lost on the elements of their case, which serve as integral parts of the cause of action or legal claim.

Proving civil cases requires the plaintiff’s attorneys to show how the defendant breached their duty of care owed to the injured victim. The burden of proof is built on four elements that include:

  1. The defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff
  2. The defendant breached that duty
  3. The plaintiff suffered injuries from the defendant’s breach
  4. There is proof that the defendant’s breach led to the plaintiff’s injuries, typically through proximate cause

In some cases, the defendant must present a defense through their burden of proof. These unique circumstances usually arise when the defendant presents an affirmative defense, shifting the blame to a third party.

An affirmative defense usually reveals how at least one other party was responsible through a preponderance of the evidence standard.

The Stages of a Civil Case

Nearly all civil cases are filed in federal court or state court at the district level, in justice courts, or in small claims court. Each court manages its rules, controlling how cases move forward.

Civil lawsuits are handled in various stages that include:

  • Pre-filing – Typically, a dispute will arise, and two or more parties will gather evidence and information, attempt to negotiate a resolution and prepare for taking the case to trial.
  • Pleading – The complainant (injured party) will file papers to initiate a court case and wait for the other party to file a response through a motion or answer.
  • Discovery – All plaintiffs and defendants exchange information revealing the other side’s case strengths and weaknesses.
  • Pretrial – If a negotiated agreement cannot be made or when the defendant failed to provide a good faith offer, both sides prepare for trial, meaning they gather evidence and witness testimony, file motions, and possibly work through arbitration or mediation to resolve the dispute case outside of court.
  • Trial – The plaintiff’s attorney will present evidence before a judge and jurors. These cases could last a few hours to a few months. Then, both sides will examine the evidence presented, Introduce eyewitness testimony, and turned the case over for the jury’s decision.
  • Post-trial – Either side could file an appeal after a judgment has been rendered at trial, or the winning party could attempt to collect the judgment entered by the judge.

Not every civil case will follow the stages above. For example, many cases are settled out of court long before the case would go to trial and sometimes before discovery. In addition, court rules may dictate unique procedures for handling specific civil cases based on statute.

Common Evidence Provided at Trial by the Party Bringing the Claim

In US courts, the person bringing civil action has the burden of proof to win their case based on a preponderance of the evidence. But what are the types of evidence presented before the judge and jurors?

Most civil trials are based on damages caused in an automobile accident, through medical malpractice, defective medications, or the result of a slip and fall. Evidence in these cases can include:

  • Accident reports – At the time of the car accident, all parties likely contacted the police. Police officers are trained to investigate crashes while the vehicles and occupants are still at the accident scene. The police officer at the accident scene likely filed the report accounting for how the crash happened and what took place after the event. Obtaining a copy from the police department can help in the burden of proof to show what happened and why the defendant is responsible for your compensation.
  • Eyewitness statements – Eyewitness testimonies can paint the picture of how the event occurred, especially if the accounts are from an unbiased witness. Typically, the plaintiff’s attorney will ask for a written statement from the witness along with their contact information if further assistance is necessary.
  • Photographic evidence from the accident scene – Taking pictures of the accident scene, property damage, and surrounding areas are crucial to proving a case.
  • Damage repair estimates – When a vehicle was damaged in an accident, a car repair shop will provide estimates and invoices to restore it to its previous condition. Car repair shop invoices are necessary to ensure you receive financial compensation for these damages.
  • Medical records – Any injury occurring through an accident or medical malpractice is likely recorded in the medical records that can be used in a court of law to support your burden of proof.
  • Medical bills – Even a minor car accident or medical mistake can generate enormous medical costs to allow the victim to heal. Bringing medical expense invoices to court can support your burden of proof when obtaining compensation for damages.
  • Surveillance footage – Many car accidents, slip and fall events, and physical assaults are captured on surveillance footage that can be used as evidence at court when seeking compensation and justice.
  • Photographic evidence of injuries – Taking pictures of your injuries caused by another’s negligent or intentional actions can help prove your case in court when jurors see the extent of your injuries.
  • Incident reports – If the accident occurred on someone else’s premises or at a workplace, management likely generated an incident report for their records. Typically, these reports explain what occurred, including why and how.

Successful civil cases are built on the plaintiff’s attorney not allowing the defendants to shift blame to the injured victim or any other party. Successful outcomes at trial are usually based on jurors being persuaded by solid evidence submitted by the plaintiff.

Hire a Personal Injury Attorney to Successfully Resolve your Civil Case

Were you injured by another’s negligence or intentional action and seek financial compensation from those at fault? Are you eager to file a personal injury lawsuit but know that the law requires the burden of proof in a civil case is placed on the complainant?

Contact our law firm at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today to schedule a free case evaluation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our law office remains private through an attorney-client relationship.

Our legal team accepts all personal injury cases and wrongful death lawsuits through contingency fee agreements. This arrangement ensures you pay for our services only after resolving your case through a jury verdict or negotiated settlement.

At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys represent clients in various practice areas, including car accidents, medical malpractice, premises liability, harmful drugs, nursing home abuse, product liability, slip & fall cases, and wrongful death.

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Many clients have already resolved their million-dollar civil action through jury verdicts and negotiated settlements after being injured through another person or entity’s actions. Call our law office today (888) 424-5757 to discuss your case.