Burdens of Proof Tell Juries How Much Evidence They'll Need to Decide Who Wins
When someone tells us a story, we can have very different reactions about whether it is true or not. We judge the story based on not only who is telling it, but also on whether it's plausible. We always hold people to a higher standard based on the seriousness of their allegations. If someone tells you they can triple your life savings in a week, you are probably not inclined to believe them. If your best friend tells you he or she had a salad for lunch, that's another thing entirely.
The law imposes standards of believability, too. The law calls them "burdens of proof," which essentially is a requirement of how convinced a jury must be to make a decision. These standards are designed to balance the many different goals each area of law seeks to achieve. It's important to grasp how these differing burdens of proof interact in a personal injury case to understand the road a successful plaintiff must walk.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What exactly is the burden of proof?
- Why does the burden of proof rest on the plaintiff?
- What are the different burdens of proof?
The Three Burdens of Proof, Briefly Explained
Just to jump right in, there are three burdens:
- Beyond a reasonable doubt: The highest standard the law imposes. This burden only applies in criminal cases. It requires the state prosecutors to put on a case that leaves no credibility issues regarding the defendant's guilt.
- Clear and convincing evidence: An elevated standard that requires a judge or jury to have substantial assurance that the allegations are correct.
- Preponderance of the evidence: The lowest standard. In civil cases---like personal injury claims---the plaintiff's burden is to show "it is more likely than not" that their version of events is correct. This is often described as a 51/49 burden.
If you consider the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, you probably can guess that the state's burden is so high because the prosecutors are seeking to impose the most serious penalties it can. As a society, we don't want to convict innocent people, so we hold the state's feet to the fire the whole process.
"Clear and convincing" evidence is less than the criminal standard and is often used in commitment proceedings---such as taking parental rights away or involuntarily placing people in a mental facility. Preponderance of the evidence is used in civil cases for all other claimants, be they personal injury, contract disputes, products liability cases, etc.
Why We Have Burdens: Juries need burdens of proof to avoid biased decisions
Jurors are in positions of immense power since they can decide a person or company's fate. Cases are supposed to be about evidence, not feelings. As a society, we want to punish bad actors and compensate victims, not blindly throw people in jail or award money to anyone.
For example, we don't want a jury convicting a man of a serious crime because the jurors have a hunch the guy did it or they just don't like the look of him. A burden is a guidepost to a jury about how seriously we want them to consider the evidence and a clear indication that they decide the case based on the facts.
Keep in mind, however, that this is not a mathematical proposition. In other words, the jury doesn't simply add up who submitted more evidence. Their job is always to decide whose evidence they believe more. For example, if the plaintiff puts forward one witness and one document, the jury could still decide for the plaintiff if the defendant put on 20 witnesses and thousands of documents as evidence.
Give Grossman Law Offices a Call
The Texas personal injury attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have over 25 years of experience handling these kinds of cases. We know this area of the law almost better than anyone. With literally thousands of cases under our belt, we're confident we can put you in the best possible position to win your claim. Give us a call at (855) 326-0000 whenever it is convenient for you.
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