In a civil or criminal proceeding, the party with the burden of proof is the party who must provide evidence to prevail. Typically, the complaining party (a plaintiff or a prosecutor) has the initial burden of proof. The burden of proof can switch sides during the case, however.
Different Burdens of Proof
How much evidence do you need to win? That depends on the circumstances. Following are descriptions of the most common standards used to determine the burden of proof.
A Preponderance of the Evidence
Courts use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to resolve most civil claims, such as personal injury lawsuits. You have a preponderance of the evidence when the evidence you have presented is enough to convince the judge or the jury that your claim is more likely than not to be true. Some call it the “51% standard”. This is a relatively easy standard to meet.
Example: A Negligence Claim
A negligence claim consists of four legal elements:
- Duty of care;
- Breach of duty;
- Damages; and
For example, a motorist who has the obligation to drive safely (duty) is driving too fast in a snowstorm (breach of duty). Their car cannot stop before colliding with another car in the intersection (proximate causation), which collision factures the leg of the other driver (damages).
To win a personal injury claim, the injured driver must prove the abovementioned elements using the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Clear and Convincing Evidence
“Clear and convincing evidence” is a higher standard of proof than the preponderance of the evidence standard. Courts normally use it to resolve punitive damages or certain fraud claims. Courts also use it to resolve child custody claims, paternity claims, and certain types of mental health proceedings.
Evidence is “clear and convincing” when it shows that the claim is much more likely than not to be true, and the court firmly believes it is true.
Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Among generally used standards of proof, “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is the most difficult to meet. You meet this standard by introducing compelling evidence of the truth of your claim, which leaves no real doubt that the defendant is almost certainly guilty. Absolute certainty is not required. The negative implication of this definition is that a criminal defendant needs only to introduce reasonable doubt to win an acquittal.
Shifting the Burden of Proof
Under certain circumstances, the burden of proof can shift during a case. Indeed, the shifting of the burden of proof occurs at least once in most cases. Following is a description of the most common of these circumstances.
The Complaining Party Establishes a Prima Facie Case
When the complaining party produces enough evidence to win the case, they have a “prima facie case,” which can shift the burden of proof to the defendant. The exact amount of evidence required depends on the facts of each individual case. If the complaining party rests without establishing a prima facie case, the defense typically asks the judge to dismiss the matter.
When the defendant pursues an “affirmative defense”, they bear the burden of proof with respect to that defense. Not all defenses are “affirmative” defenses–only certain defenses do. Following is a list of popular affirmative defenses:
- Expiration of the statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit;
- Insanity (criminal cases);
- Defense of others;
- Assumption of the risk (civil cases); and
- Failure to mitigate damages.
A defendant only needs to use one of these defenses after the complaining party establishes a prima facie case.
Negligence Per Se
The doctrine of “negligence per se” is a shortcut to proving negligence is a personal injury claim. The complaining party will try to prove the defendant violated a safety statute or ordinance. If they can, and if the defendant’s violation caused the harm that the other party is complaining of, then the defendant is liable.
The Application of the Burden of Proof in Settlement Negotiations
A popular saying states that “all bargaining takes place in the shadow of the law.” This observation certainly applies to settlement negotiations. This means that the parties will try to forecast how a court would look at their evidence and carry on settlement negotiations accordingly.
One implication of this notion is that it can be highly beneficial to hire a lawyer even if your case doesn’t make it to court. An attorney can protect your interests even if you are up against a powerful insurance company and can ensure you aren’t taken advantage of.
An Initial Case Consultation Is Usually Free of Charge
Few Jacksonville personal injury lawyers will charge you for an initial case consultation. Initial consultations also come with no obligation to hire the lawyer. If you think you may have a case, you have little to lose by scheduling an initial consultation. Contact our experienced attorneys at Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers by dialing (904) 396-1100.