What is Burden of Proof in Law Terms?

The legal concept of a burden of proof is the obligation of one party to provide substantial evidence that a legal claim or fact is valid. In essence, having a burden of proof means that it is on your shoulders to show something is true in order to leverage your legal rights.

Introduction to Burden of Proof

If you’ve spent any time watching court TV, then you’ve likely heard the term ‘burden of proof’ thrown around a lot. In short, you can explain burden of proof as one party’s responsibility of showing that their statements, claims, or facts are true. For instance, if you are seeking a legal claim for compensation for your medical expenses after a car accident, then you can’t expect a court to assume your side of the story is true. For true justice to be served, you need to be responsible for proving specific elements of your claim. You will need to provide specific evidence to show that the accident happened, the other party was responsible, and you actually got hurt.

The burden of proof meaning can change depending on the context of the legal situation, and the burden of proof can shift from one party to another as the case progresses.

Types of Burden of Proof

The definition of burden of proof wouldn’t be complete without touching on the different types under the law. Since there are two court systems (civil and criminal) and countless different types of legal claims heard throughout the country every day, it makes sense that there are different standards of burden of proof depending on your specific situation. Here are just a few examples of the different types of burden of proof in different situations:

  • Criminal Arrest: Probable cause.
  • Criminal Court: Beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Many Civil Cases: Preponderance of the evidence.
  • Fraud Cases: Clear and convincing evidence.

In most civil cases, your claim validity hinges on your evidence production. If you’re not sure how to go about getting the right evidence to meet the burden of proof in your legal case, then you won’t be able to move forward with your claim. In these situations, it makes the most sense to consult with an attorney about how to secure the right evidence you need.

Burden of Proof in Civil Cases

Civil trials typically begin when one party commits wrongdoing against another party that isn’t against the law but still causes harm to the other person. When these situations arise, civil lawsuits are filed to help the injured party get financial justice and receive the money they need to move forward from the incident.

After the initial incident, the burden of proof in a civil case rests on the injured party’s shoulders. They’ll be responsible for proving each of the following elements:

  1. The other party had a legal duty to provide for the care of the injured party.
  2. The other party failed to uphold their duty of care.
  3. The breach of the duty of care led to the accident.
  4. The accident directly caused the injury and other losses.

The standard of proof in civil court is a preponderance of the evidence, which means that you simply need to produce enough evidence to convince the other party or a jury that your claims are valid. Sometimes, the standard of proof is a bit higher with insurance claims since insurance companies will work diligently to try to minimize or reduce your payout.

Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases

Criminal prosecutions work a bit differently than civil court proceedings. These cases get started when one party is accused of committing a criminal act. The legal standard is that the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove that the other party did commit the crime. This ‘innocent until proven guilty’ standard makes sense when you consider the potential consequences of false imprisonment.

Factual evidence is based on ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standards of proof. Prosecutors’ requirements are often quite high since it is usually pretty easy for the accused to cast reasonable doubt into the prosecutor’s story.

Shifting Burden of Proof

The party who has the burden of proof can shift throughout the trial depending on how your case progresses. This is to be expected, and if you plan ahead, then you can be prepared for the burden of evidence to get shifted in advance. At the beginning of a civil dispute, it is the injured party’s duty to collect the evidence they need to prove their claims. Once they’ve submitted the details, it is the defendant’s responsibility to prove the claims are not valid. In criminal court, the burden of proof is initially on the prosecutor, but it can shift to the accused when the prosecutor’s evidence is significant. At that point, it’s up to the accused to prove their innocence.

Challenges and Considerations

When considering the standard of proof vs burden of proof in most legal cases and insurance policy claims, it’s best to err on the side of information gathering. In general, the more proof, evidence, and details you can produce about the original incident, your losses, and your injuries, the better off your case will be. Compensation determination is highly dependent on the evidence you gather, so always assume that the burden of proof rests solely on your shoulders. If you do, then you’re more likely to make proactive legal decisions that propel your case forward.

Glossary References


Ray Kermani
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