Burden of Proof Definition
In a criminal trial, the defendant is considered innocent, and the prosecutor has the job of proving that the defendant’s guilt. Similarly, in a civil lawsuit, the person who files the lawsuit (the plaintiff) has the responsibility to prove that the defendant’s actions caused the damage. The legal term for this is burden of proof. It is used to refer to who has the responsibility to prove the facts, who has the burden of proof. Aside from a few exceptions, the prosecutor or plaintiff usually have the burden of proof.
Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases vs. Burden of Proof in Civil Cases
The burden of proof works very differently in civil cases and criminal cases. This is because there is a lot on the line in criminal cases, a defendant risks losing their freedom, rights, and in some cases, even their life. Thus, the burden of proof is much higher in criminal cases, and the prosecutor must prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt. This means there can be no other explanation than the defendant committing the crime. In a civil case, the burden of proof is preponderance of evidence, which means the evidence suggests that the plaintiff’s claim is more likely true than false. The plaintiff only has to convince the jury that it is the most likely explanation based on the evidence. We will discuss the types of burden of proof further in the article.
It is worth noting that a civil case that has serious implications for a defendant may require a higher burden of proof from the plaintiff. A personal injury case may only have a burden of proof for preponderance of evidence, but a case that may have implications for a criminal lawsuit or serious injunctions may require a higher burden of proof. Your attorney can help you determine what the burden of proof is in your situation.
Burden of Proof of Negligence in a Civil Case
In a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to prove that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care
- The defendant did not act as a person reasonably would in that situation and thus breached the duty of care
- This duty of care either directly caused the plaintiff’s damages or caused the event that caused the plaintiff’s damages
If the plaintiff does not show evidence that proves all of those things, then they have failed their burden of proof in order to claim negligence. The court does not suppose these things for the plaintiff, nor will it make the defendant prove that they did not commit the crime. The plaintiff is the one with the burden of proof. If you are filing a negligence civil lawsuit, then you should hire an attorney to help you fulfil the burden of proof. They will ensure you present the correct evidence to prove negligence.
What Are the Types of Burden of Proof?
There are a number of types of burden of proof or levels that may be required of the plaintiff or prosecutor. The lowest level is preponderance of evidence which is the burden of proof required in most civil cases. Then is clear and convincing evidence which is the burden of proof required in higher stakes civil cases. The highest level is beyond a reasonable doubt which is the burden of proof required in criminal cases.
Preponderance of evidence just means that the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that their claim is more likely to be true than not. For example, if the claim is a car accident where the defendant ran a red light, the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant running a red light is more likely true than another scenario.
Clear and convincing evidence puts a higher burden of proof on the plaintiff to ensure that the plaintiff’s claim is highly probable. The plaintiff must convince the judge and jury that they are offering the most likely explanation, and it is improbable that anything else occurred.
Beyond a reasonable doubt means that the prosecutor must show sufficient evidence that there is no other explanation. The burden of proof is set high enough to ensure it is unlikely that innocent people are charged for criminal acts. If there are other possible explanations, then the prosecutor has not satisfied the burden of proof.