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Whenever someone sues another person for damages in a personal injury lawsuit such as a car accident case, the law places what is referred to as the “burden of proof” on one of the litigants.  The burden of proof is the requirement that one litigant must prove that his or her version of what happened is true.  Once it is established which litigant has the burden of proof, that litigant must present enough evidence to meet that burden.  In most civil cases, including car accident cases, the burden of proof is a “preponderance of evidence.”  In most criminal cases the burden is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Other standards of proof include “clear and convincing evidence” and “some credible evidence.”  There is even a special burden of proof applied to whether or not an arrest can be made called “probable cause.”

Burden of Proof in a Car Accident

In New York as in many other states, the person who brings the claim or lawsuit in a car accident case, or in any civil case has the burden of proof.   For example, suppose that the car driven by Driver A is struck by the car driven by Driver B.  Driver A claims that Driver B caused the accident by failing to stop at a stop sign.  Driver A was injured in the accident and decides to bring a lawsuit against Driver B.  Because Driver A is suing Driver B, Driver A would have the burden of proving that Driver B caused the accident.  Thus, Driver A must somehow show that Driver B did not stop at the stop sign in violation of a traffic rule.  According to a Syracuse car accident lawyer, under these facts one way that Driver A could show that Driver B was at fault for the car accident would be to produce evidence that Driver B was ticketed for not stopping at the stop sign.  Or Driver B could produce a witness who observed that Driver B failed to stop at the stop sign.

The Quality of Evidence Required to Meet the Burden

In a car accident case the standard of proof is that the plaintiff must show by a “fair preponderance of credible evidence” that the defendant caused the accident.  This standard is lower than the standard in a criminal case which requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  For evidence to be “credible,” the evidence must be such that the judge or the jury is convinced by it.  For example, if the plaintiff presents evidence that a police officer issued a ticket to the defendant for failing to stop at a stop sign such evidence would be powerful and the judge or the jury will likely believe that evidence.  “Preponderance” of evidence means most of evidence.  Accordingly, even if some of the evidence presented by the defendant supports the defendant’s case, if most of the evidence favors the plaintiff, then the plaintiff should prevail.  On the other hand, if the only evidence that the plaintiff offers is her or her own testimony, even if credible it may not present a preponderance of evidence.  Therefore, it is likely that the plaintiff would not  have met the required burden of proof.  If the preponderance of evidence does not favor the plaintiff’s case or the defendant’s case, then the defendant should prevail, as the plaintiff did not sufficiently prove his or her case.

Is it fair that there are different standards of proof depending on the type of case and the jurisdiction?  Wouldn’t our legal system be more fair if in all cases the plaintiff or prosecution had to prove his or her case to the point that there is no doubt in the mind of the trier of fact?

Staff (65 Posts)