What is the burden of proof in a civil case?

Burden of Proof written on a chalkboard

In a recent blog, we talked about the burden of proof in a criminal case or proving guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, such as when someone sues someone else, the burden is lower.

Unlike in criminal cases, where the government alleges that someone (a defendant) committed a crime, civil cases allow a person or entity to bring a lawsuit against another person or entity. The person starting the lawsuit is referred to as the plaintiff, while the person being sued is called the defendant. Typically, when a plaintiff sues a defendant, the plaintiff is alleging that the defendant did something unlawful, whether it was acting negligently, breaching a contract, or violating a person’s constitutional rights.

Since the plaintiff is the one who begins the lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, which means that the plaintiff is responsible for convincing a jury that the defendant did something wrong. However, whereas the burden is very high in a criminal case, in civil cases, the burden is much lower. To win a civil case, a plaintiff must convince the jury by “a preponderance of the evidence.” Simply said, a plaintiff must prove that there is a greater likelihood than not that the defendant did something wrong.

Here's a good way to think about it. Everyone knows about the scales of justice. At rest, the scales are balanced, and no side is heavier than the other. In civil cases, all it takes is the weight of a feather to establish a preponderance of the evidence. The weight of the feather tilts the scales ever so slightly, and that slight tip means that the plaintiff wins. This is quite a bit different than in criminal cases, because in criminal cases, the government must exclude every reasonable doubt in order to win.

Whether civil or criminal, it is always a good idea to get an attorney involved as soon as possible to review the facts and potential outcomes of your case. If you are the defendant in a criminal case, you will need an attorney who can review the details of the case to determine the prosecutor’s burden to prove you are guilty. On the other hand, if you are the plaintiff in a civil case, you will need an attorney to prove that the defendant did something wrong against you causing injury or damages. Our office handles both types of cases. Contact our office at (662) 545-4445 for a consultation where we will go over the facts of your case with you and discuss the processes that you can expect for either civil or criminal cases.

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