How Does Proof Work In A Injury Lawsuit?
One thing that both civil and criminal court cases share in common is the need for proof that is presented to a jury. Both types of court cases have lawyers presenting an argument, augmenting that argument with evidence and proof, and then leaving a jury to arrive at a conclusion. The jury must then look at the proof presented, and decide whether someone is guilty, in the case of a criminal case, or liable for damages in a civil lawsuit.
Regardless of the actual outcome, that process is identical; proof is critical. However, there is a big difference between the “levels of proof” that are required for a jury to reach a verdict in a criminal case, versus a civil law-suit. Lawsuits have a lower threshold and are easier!
Beyond Reasonable Doubt
In criminal court cases, the accused, if there is a guilty verdict, could face community service, heavy fines, imprisonment, and, in the most extreme cases, execution. As a result, Florida courts require that proof presented to the jury must meet the criteria of being “beyond all reasonable doubt.”
This means that it is up to a prosecuting attorney to present enough evidence, and make arguments compelling enough that the jury feels confident there is little to no chance a defendant is not guilty. If video footage, for example, shows a murderer committing the act, fingerprints are present, DNA is secured from the scene, eye-witness accounts corroborate surveillance footage, and the defendant shot at police and was subdued with the weapons, still possession, there less than 1% chance, with all that evidence that the defendant is not guilty.
On the other hand, if no one saw the defendant do it, there is no solid forensic evidence, and the only argument the prosecution can present is, “We have a feeling this person might have done it,” there is plenty of reason to doubt that a guilty verdict is a certainty. Criminal verdicts must come from a place where as much doubt as possible is eliminated from the equation.
Preponderance Of The Evidence
Civil cases are different. When it comes to family cases such divorce, child support, and even civil cases like negligence or wrongful death cases, the standard used is known as preponderance of the evidence. Simply put, rather than striving to eliminate as much doubt as possible, a civil case merely needs to present enough proof to make a particular outcome more likely, or reasonable, than not. In other words, where a best case scenario for a murder case would be 95%+ certainty that a crime was committed by an individual, a negligence case, for example, might get by on 60% or even just 55% likelihood based on the evidence that is presented.
This means that it is much easier, comparatively speaking, to arrive at a legal position where the evidence is sufficient grounds to assign fault, liability, and thus demand compensation. It is one of the reasons, for example, that while OJ Simpson was not found guilty, beyond all reasonable doubt, of murder in his famous 1990s murder trial, he was held liable on preponderance of the evidence for wrongful death in a civil lawsuit.
This does not necessarily mean that lawsuit attorneys don’t have to work as hard! On the contrary, good evidence is still good evidence, and it’s always better to approach a case with 90% certainty of good evidence that just over 50%. But it does mean that if you decide to talk an attorney about car accident or personal injury lawsuit, you don’t have to worry about the burden of proof being as demanding as it would be for resolving a criminal court case.