In the media and in movies, the legal concept of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is thrown around so freely that the general population often gets confused with the standard of proof required for civil cases (i.e. Lawsuits.) In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the legal concept of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” only applies to criminal cases. Basically, when someone is charged with a crime such as murder, the prosecution must prove that the accused committed the murder beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that whomever is making the decision to convict, be it judge or jury, there is no reasonable doubt in their minds that the accused could be innocent.
The Burden of Proof in Civil Cases
In civil cases, such as personal injury lawsuits, the burden of proof is substantially lower. In civil cases, the law requires there to be a preponderance of evidence suggesting liability. This means that whomever is deciding liability, be it judge or jury, they must find that it is more than 50% likely that the defendant is legally responsible. In other words, the ‘preponderance of evidence’ burden of proof in a civil case means that it is more likely than not.
You Can Be Found Not Guilty, But Still Liable
In order to illustrate how the burdens of proof differ in practice, allow us to give you a hypothetical situation. Bob was accused and ultimately acquitted by a jury of murdering his neighbor, Steve. After Bob’s acquittal in criminal proceedings, Steve’s family brought suit against him for wrongful death. Bob was found liable, and Steve’s family was awarded with compensatory and punitive damages.
When we consider the burden of proof required by law for civil and criminal cases, it would actually be possible for the same jury to find Bob not guilty of murder and civilly liable for the death of Steve. If the jury believed the probability of Bob committing the murder he was accused of to be, say, 90%, he would be legally liable in the civil case, whose burden of proof only requires a preponderance of evidence. If the jury believed that it was 90% likely that Bob committed the murder, but also 10% likely that someone else committed the murder, then the prosecution did not prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, in that scenario, even though the jury believed it was more likely than not that Bob committed a homicide, there was a small, reasonable possibility that he did not. Thus, Bob would walk free.
What Type of Proof Do I Need for My Civil Case?
If you are filing, or considering filing, a civil case against someone who has injured you, you will need to meet the preponderance of evidence burden of proof in order to win your case. This means that a jury will need to find it more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for your injury. The type of evidence necessary for individual cases varies greatly from case to case. If you are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit, remember that time is of the essence. Once the Statute of Limitations passes, you will not be able to bring suit against the party who has injured you.
Contact OnlyWhenYouWin today, tell us your story, and we’d be glad to explain the type of evidence necessary for your particular case.