The Burden of Proof in Civil Litigation

October 10, 2019

If you have sustained injuries in an accident by the negligent or wrongful misconduct of another party, then you may be entitled to compensation pursuant to Pennsylvania law.  It’s worth noting, however, in order to successfully litigate your claim and recover the damages that you’re owed by the defendant, you’ll have to satisfy the “burden of proof” standard applicable to your case.

You may have heard of the “burden of proof” concept, but what does it really mean?  Let’s explore some of the basics.

What is Burden of Proof as a Concept?

In civil or criminal litigation, the burden of proof describes a legal standard necessary to prove the claims being asserted.  As the plaintiff, you are entering the litigation process with the intention of introducing evidence that will prove the truth of your claims — for example, if you were injured in a car accident, you’ll want to introduce evidence that the defendant was texting and driving simultaneously (thus exposing you to an unreasonable risk of injury).

The burden of proof is indicative of the dispositive value of the evidence being introduced.  In civil lawsuits, the burden of proof requires that the overall evidence you introduce prove that you are more likely right than wrong.  Evidence must therefore be considered in the context of the applicable burden of proof standard.

Understanding the Different Burden of Proof Standards

Criminal and civil litigation involves fundamentally different burdens of proof standards.

In criminal trials, the prosecution must prove that the defendant is guilty of the criminal offense or offenses at issue “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  There is no percentage amount of certainty that can be appended to this standard, but it tends to hover between 95 and 99 percent certainty.  In other words, a defendant cannot be held criminally liable unless the evidence that the prosecution has introduced is sufficient to give the juror more than 99 percent certainty that the defendant is guilty.

That’s a strict standard!

In civil trials, you — the plaintiff — must satisfy a much looser standard: “preponderance of the evidence.”  To succeed in civil litigation, you will have to introduce evidence that convinces the court that your asserted claims are “more likely to be true than false.”  In other words, by a preponderance of the evidence.  One could reasonably describe this concept as 51 percent certainty of truth.

Because the civil burden of proof standard is significantly lower than the criminal burden of proof standard, this leads to a number of interesting scenarios where the defendant has been found innocent of a crime but is liable to the injury victim for related civil damages.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is the OJ Simpson trial, where the defendant was found not guilty in the criminal case but was made to pay damages for the wrongful death of the victims in the civil case.

If you have been injured in an accident that was caused due to the fault of another person or entity, then Pennsylvania law may give you a right of action for damages.  Securing adequate compensation can be much more difficult than it might initially seem, however, so make sure to secure qualified assistance.  Contact an experienced personal injury attorney for guidance through the litigation process.