What is the Burden of Proof in a Civil Case?
Civil litigation refers to the process in the legal system that allows one individual, business, or entity to pursue a legal claim against another person, business or entity. Unlike in the criminal justice system, the state is not involved in bringing charges or making claims in civil litigation. Jail time is not a remedy in a civil case, and usually the plaintiff who files the suit seeks money- although there may also be other available remedies like an injunction to prevent something from occurring or a court order to follow through with a contract.
There are myriad types of civil litigation, from personal injury or product defect claims to employment discrimination or breach of contract cases. America is well-known as a litigious society, but the civil justice system serves a very important purpose of helping to resolve private disputes and of giving every person or company a day in court to be heard. Unfortunately, the downside of the litigious nature of society is that anyone who is in business for any length of time is likely to end up involved in some type of civil litigation, either as a plaintiff or as a defendant.
If you are sued or if you need to file a civil lawsuit against someone else to protect your company’s interests, you must understand the burden of proof in a civil case so you will know how the outcome of your case is to be determined. An Irvine business litigation lawyer at Brown & Charbonneau, LLP has extensive experience representing clients both who are suing and who are being sued. We’ll help you to understand the burden of proof and will assist in making compelling legal arguments to maximize the chances you will meet your burden and prevail in court. Give us a call as soon as possible to learn more.
What is the Burden of Proof in a Civil Case?
In a civil case, a plaintiff files a complaint and states both facts and legal grounds for the civil litigation. The plaintiff has the burden of proof, which means the plaintiff must convince the jury that the facts are as presented and that there is grounds for the case. Plaintiffs don’t have to make the jury 100 percent confident that everything the plaintiff says is true. Instead, as California Civil Jury Instruction 200 explains: “A party must persuade you [the jury], by the evidence presented in court, that what he or she is required to prove is more likely to be true than not true. This is referred to as “the burden of proof.”
If the plaintiff succeeds in persuading the jury, based on the evidence, that the allegations against the defendant are more likely to be true than not true, the plaintiff should prevail. If the plaintiff does not succeed in convincing a jury the allegations are more likely to be true than false, the defendant should prevail.
The burden of proof in civil litigation is lower for plaintiffs than the burden of proof is for prosecutors in a criminal case. A prosecutor has to prove a case against a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the standard is much lower. This explains why sometimes a person escapes criminal liability for something (like O.J. Simpson who avoided being convicted of killing his wife) but still loses a civil case arising from the same set of facts (O.J. lost his civil suit and was ordered to pay damages to family members of the victims).
What Does a Defendant Have to Prove in Civil Litigation?
Because the burden of proof is on the plaintiff in a civil case, a defendant does not actually have to prove anything to avoid a jury finding for the plaintiff. If the plaintiff cannot convince the jury that the facts and allegations are more likely to be true than not, the defendant should prevail even if he presents no defense at all. Defendants in civil cases often work to poke holes in a plaintiff’s case, rather than to affirmatively prove they are not liable.
Defendants can, however, sometimes raise affirmative defenses. For example, when a company is sued for employment discrimination, affirmative defenses could include a bona fide job-related justification for the discrimination. If a defendant raises an affirmative defense, the burden of proof switches to the defendant and the defendant now must prove that the defense should apply.
Getting Help With Civil Litigation from an Irvine Lawyer
An Irvine civil litigation lawyer can help plaintiffs and defendants in lawsuits to determine what they must prove and how best to prepare evidence to make a strong case. To learn more and to get a legal team working on helping you to meet the burden of proof imposed on you by the rules of the civil justice system, call Brown & Charbonneau, LLP today at 714-505-3000 or contact us online.