More Likely Than Not: The Burden of Proof in Civil Cases
When personal injury and wrongful death cases make it to a jury, one thing is certain: the plaintiffs and defendants will present a lot of evidence. And it's natural that each side will only put on evidence that helps their side. The jury's job is not to determine who presents the most evidence, but to decide whose evidence is more credible.
Conceivably, a jury might believe that the defendant hurt the plaintiff, the accident was the defendant's fault, and all the alleged damages the plaintiff has claimed are accurate. Alternatively, the jury may believe the plaintiff's case is a joke. Or, at the end of the day, the jury may not completely believe either parties' arguments or evidence, and deliver a verdict that's somewhat equivocal. That's actually quite common.
After all, there are two sides to every story, and if a case makes it all the way to trial, then both sides likely have some reason to be confident that their version of events is at least plausible. Assuming that neither side's account is clearly baseless, the jury then has to decide whose story is more likely to be correct.
In this article, we'll talk about what benchmark the jury must use to decide whether the plaintiff wins or loses at trial.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What is the preponderance of the evidence standard in a personal injury case?
- How does the plaintiff's burden of proof relate to the preponderance of the evidence standard?
The plaintiff must put on more credible evidence than the defendant
The burden is on the plaintiff to prove his case. He can't simply allege the defendant did something bad and force the defendant to prove he's not at fault. It may seem unfair to make an injured person go through even more difficulty to win his case, but that's how the law works. Think about it this way: he filed the lawsuit and asked the court to assemble a jury to evaluate his case, and therefore it makes sense that he should have to demonstrate why he was right to do so.
But just how high is the plaintiff's burden? The jury must decide if the plaintiff's allegations meet the preponderance of the evidence standard, meaning that they are "more likely true than not." Essentially, the jurors must be convinced that it's at least 51% likely that the plaintiff's allegations are correct. This is obviously not a terribly high bar, particularly in comparison to the far more demanding standard of criminal convictions, in which the prosecution must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Keep something in mind: jurors are supposed to listen to all the evidence before they come to any determination. That means that they have to do their best to suspend their judgment until both sides fully present their case. Below are some potential civil case scenarios and how a jury is expected to evaluate them:
- In a car wreck case, the plaintiff claims on the stand that the defendant ran a red light and slammed into her. The defendant's lawyer cross-examines her and gets her to admit that she has memory problems. The defendant takes the stand and claims that the light was green and he had the right of way. The plaintiff's attorney cross-examines him and it's revealed that the defendant has been convicted of traffic offenses in the past. The jury must decide whom they believe. If they feel that neither witness is credible (thereby making the evidence 50-50), the plaintiff's claim must be rejected, because she hasn't met her burden.
- A woman was killed when her car collided with an 18-wheeler in a truck accident. The 18-wheeler driver survives, but adamantly claims that the accident was the other driver's fault. Even though the other driver is now dead and cannot give her version of events, her family's attorney could still offer various forms of evidence (like the testimony of an expert accident reconstructionist) to convince the jury that it's more likely than not that the accident was the truck driver's fault.
The bottom line is that the plaintiff must reach the 51-49 threshold in the jury's mind, or their claims fail.
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If you've been hurt in an accident, call the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices today at (855) 326-0000. We're here to help. Put our over 25 years of experience winning personal injury cases in the state of Texas to work for you.