If you watch any news or footage of court cases and trials one term you hear a lot is “burden of proof”. I remember in the OJ Simpson case this was a big deal, and its because it can be THE reason one side wins or loses. So what does this term mean and why is it important? If you are ever a juror at a trial it is potentially the most important thing you need to know, and will likely not be explained to you until AFTER the trial, so in this post I want to give you a little understanding of it.
The burden of proof refers to which party – either the defendant or the plaintiff – has the responsibility of showing evidence to prove their claim. In most cases, the party that brought the claim will bear the burden of proof.
Now there is a different STANDARD for the burden of proof in a criminal case (where a persons freedom may be taken away) and in a civil case. In a criminal case as we have all heard it is a very very tough standard which is beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a civil case, and I’ll use my state of New York, the plaintiff’s burden is typically to prove the defendant was at fault for the accident and the injuries in question. The typical standard in a civil case is what is called “a preponderance of the evidence.” This just means proof that it is slightly more likely than not. It can be 50.1% v. 49.9% on a given issue.
Here is a bonus point – if the defendant in a case says the plaintiff also bears some fault in the incident then the defendant has the burden of proving plaintiff’s negligence by this standard. It is not enough to say that the plaintiff could have done something to prevent the incident, no, they must PROVE by a preponderance of the evidence that plaintiff did something wrong or negligent! For example, if you’re walking on a sidewalk and trip on a sidewalk defect its not enough for them to say that you should have seen this defect. No, you’re allowed to walk down a sidewalk without seeing hazards that someone else should have fixed – they need to prove that you were actually being negligent by doing things like looking at your phone and texting or walking blindfolded.
So, when you are on a jury in a civil case you need to remember to hold the plaintiff to the correct burden of proof in proving his or her case – which is just that its more likely than not… and keep that in mind throughout the whole trial. Do not think that because there’s just a little possible doubt in your mind, than like the OJ case, it fails to meet the burden.
This is so important to justice in these cases, which is all that we are after.