When an injured person sues another person or company in a personal injury or other torts lawsuit, the injured person has the responsibility of proving that the person or company he sued is legally responsible for his injuries. However, the injured person does not have to prove this beyond any chance of a doubt. Rather, the injured person or plaintiff is merely responsible for proving it is “more likely than not” the defendant is responsible for his injuries. “A preponderance of the evidence” is another way of saying “it’s more likely than not.”
In order to win her case, the plaintiff must prove that the events in her case “more likely than not” occurred the way she claims, rather than the way the defendant claims they happened. There is no specific formula for determining whether the plaintiff has met her burden of proof. Rather, the jury (or judge if the case is a bench trial) decides after hearing all the evidence whether the plaintiff has succeeded in proving her version of the case is “more likely than not” the one that happened.
In order to prove that the defendant is liable to the plaintiff for damages, the plaintiff must prove that every element of her claims against the defendant “more likely than not” occurred. For example, if a plaintiff sues a defendant for negligence, the plaintiff must prove all four elements of negligence: that the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff; that the defendant breached that duty; that the breach caused the plaintiff’s injury; and that money damages will compensate the plaintiff for her injury. If the plaintiff does not prove that each of these “more likely than not” occurred, she cannot win her case in court.
In most instances, the party who raises a claim is the one who has the responsibility of proving it in court. For example, while the plaintiff is responsible for proving the claims listed in her initial Complaint, the defendant must prove any claims he raises in response. These include any affirmative defenses the defendant wants to prove, as well as any counterclaims that the defendant makes against the plaintiff.
The responsibility to prove a claim in court is known generally as the burden of proof. Civil cases usually use preponderance of the evidence as their burden of proof, although some claims use the higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. The clear and convincing evidence standard most often appears in civil cases that affect a person’s rights, such as child custody hearings. The most well-known burden of proof, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is used in criminal cases.