The Difference Between: Standards of Proof

October 21, 2014

This is the latest installment in our “Difference Between…” series, in which we explain the differences between commonly confused or misunderstood legal concepts.

Beyond a reasonable doubt.  Even to non-lawyers, this is one of the most widely recognized legal phrases.  But it is, of course, so much more than just a phrase.  Beyond a reasonable doubt is a legal concept known as a standard of proof.  In simple terms, a standard of proof is the burden that an individual must meet in order to win a case.  In a criminal trial, a prosecutor must meet the standard of proof by establishing that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

What many people do not know is that different types of cases have different standards of proof.  As trial attorneys, we often encounter clients or prospective jurors who are under the impression that a personal injury victim must prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to receive compensation.  This is simply not true.

In most civil cases—including medical malpractice, product liability, and other personal injury claims—the plaintiff must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence.  This means that the plaintiff’s evidence in support of his claim must outweigh the evidence against his claim.  This standard of proof is significantly easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

For some civil claims, such as claims for punitive damages, there is yet another applicable standard of proof: clear and convincing evidence.  This standard of proof lies between “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “preponderance of the evidence,” and requires that the plaintiff’s evidence produces a firm belief or conviction about the facts in the minds of the factfinder (either jurors or, in a bench trial, the judge).

These differences are important to understand if you are considering legal action related to a personal injury.  Unfortunately, some injured victims do not seek compensation for their injuries because they mistakenly believe that it will be too difficult to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  But this is not the standard in your personal injury case.

If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of medical malpractice, a defective product, an automobile accident, or the negligence of another, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Lowe Scott Fisher Co., LPA for a free telephone consultation.

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