What Standards of Proof Apply in Civil Litigation?


If you're pursuing a civil lawsuit, you'll likely want to know how hard it will be to prove your case. Here's a look at what the standards of proof are in civil cases and how they might apply to yours.

The Two Standards

By far the predominant standard of proof a court expects from a civil litigation lawyer is what's called "the preponderance of the evidence." Legal scholars sometimes call this a 51% standard because each side in a matter is trying to prove that their version of the truth is more likely than not the right version.

A major exception exists when there are accusations of fraud. If someone in a civil matter is accused of fraud, the standard of proof goes up. However, it doesn't go as high as the criminal standard of proof, commonly referred to as "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Instead, the civil fraud standard of proof is an in-between one called "clear and convincing evidence."

Making Use of Evidence and Testimony

Very few cases truly boil down to a 51% to 49% ratio of evidence. Instead, civil litigation lawyers tend to stack evidence on behalf of their clients until one side breaks. It might be the defendant, but it might also be the plaintiff.

Generally, the evidence shakes out during the pre-trial phase where the discovery of evidence is conducted and witnesses provide depositions. As these processes unfold, it's common for the proof to stack up more to one side. Frequently, the side that's falling behind in the provision of proof will accept a settlement with the other side or drop the case, depending on which is beneficial. Sometimes a civil litigation lawyer will ask the court for summary judgment because the evidence is overwhelming and there's little chance the other side will recover.

If no settlement is reached, no one withdraws their case, and the judge does rule from the bench, eventually, the matter will go to trial. A jury will be asked to review the evidence both sides present and decide who has provided the preponderance of the evidence.

Note that the preponderance of the evidence doesn't necessarily mean there's a one-for-one valuation of all the pieces of evidence. When one piece of evidence is overwhelming, a ton of little contrary bits won't suffice. If a business claimed it hadn't received a shipment and the other side discovered a signed receipt and photos of the shipped items, for example, it probably wouldn't matter what other evidence there was.

Learn more about this process by contacting a civil litigation lawyer. 


29 September 2020

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