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Understanding Proof in Legal Cases: Burden vs. Standard

May 19, 2021 - Personal Injury

Legal disputes are being argued in front of judges and juries every day in courtrooms across the country. In each case, the two types of proof, known more specifically as the “burden of proof” and the “standard of proof,” determine who has to prove what and to what extent. “Burden” and “standard” of proof are commonly used interchangeably, but there are important distinctions between them.

If you are involved in any type of lawsuit, you can be of greater assistance to your lawyer or lawyers if you understand exactly what these burdens are and how they work in your case. Nonetheless, remember that in Pennsylvania, our Allentown personal injury lawyer will explain these concepts in greater detail and tell you how these burdens of proof may be used strategically.

The Standard of Proof in Civil Cases

The standard of proof is the extent to which the party carrying the burden of proof has to prove its case. Generally speaking, the higher the stakes, the higher the standard of proof is. These standards include:

  • Preponderance of the Evidence. This is the lowest standard in which the injured party must show the judge or jury that the defendant is more than 50% responsible for the plaintiff’s suffering and losses. In other words, more likely than not. This standard is common in civil cases.
  • Clear and Convincing Evidence. This is a higher standard than the Preponderance of the Evidence standard and requires an injured party to show that there is a high probability that the suffering and losses occurred. This standard is typically used for more serious civil matters, such as claims involving fraud, inheritances, wills, or important decisions like taking someone off of life support.

The Burden of Proof

The burden of proof is the burden that a plaintiff (i.e., the injured party) has to produce evidence sufficient to support their claims. However, this burden may shift from party to party. For example, let’s say a plaintiff decides to sue a defendant for battery (as well as his or her personal injury-related medical expenses) after being hit with a baseball bat. The criminal aspect of the case involving battery typically has five elements, meaning the defendant:

  1. Intentionally
  2. Made contact
  3. With the plaintiff
  4. That was harmful or offensive
  5. And caused the plaintiff’s injuries

Because in criminal cases, the defendant enjoys a presumption of being innocent until proven guilty, the plaintiff has the “burden of proof” to provide evidence sufficient to support all four of those elements. However, let’s say those elements are all satisfied, but the defendant raises a defense of self-defense, claiming that the plaintiff was angry over some taunting by the defendant and he ultimately advanced toward the defendant with his own baseball bat to hit him. In this case, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to provide evidence sufficient to support the self-defense claim.

Contact an Allentown Personal Injury Lawyer For More Information 

Clearly, the burden and standard of proof are extremely important and are the primary basis for decisions in countless trials of all types. Commonly, you’ll hear of a defendant being acquitted in a criminal trial using a beyond a reasonable doubt standard yet, he or she can be found liable for damages under a preponderance of the evidence standard. 

Contact an Allentown personal injury lawyer at Drake, Hileman & Davis for your free consultation and we’ll help you determine which standards will be used and how they may affect the outcome of your claim.

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