Burden of Proof: Meaning, Standards and Examples

What Is Burden of Proof?

Burden of proof is a legal standard that determines if a legal claim is valid or invalid based on the evidence produced. The burden of proof is typically required of one party in a claim, and in many cases, the party that is filing a claim is the party that must demonstrate that the claim is valid and carry the burden of proof.

Key Takeaways

  • The burden of proof is a legal requirement that determines the viability of a claim based on the factual evidence produced.
  • The onus for the burden of proof lies with the party initiating or filing a claim.
  • Standards of burden of proof are used in both civil and criminal trials and cases involving insurance claims or lawsuits involving financial malfeasance.

Understanding Burden of Proof

The burden of proof requirement is designed to ensure that legal decisions are made based on facts rather than conjecture. The party initiating a case or lawsuit must support its claims with facts and evidence. Attornies are often tasked with collecting evidence and establishing a burden of proof on behalf of a plaintiff.

There are three levels of the burden of proof that determine the amount of evidence required for a claim to be successful. These include "preponderance of the evidence," "clear and convincing," and "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Standards of Proof

Preponderance of the Evidence

Most civil lawsuits require plaintiffs to demonstrate to the judge or jury that the defendant is more than 50% responsible for their suffering and losses. Plaintiffs will often sue defendants to recover financial compensation for damages such as medical bills, lost wages, or property damage.

Clear and Convincing

Beyond financial compensation, a plaintiff may sue for something intangible. Clear and convincing evidence requires a higher standard of evidence than the preponderance of the evidence standard and may be used in claims of job discrimination.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Beyond a reasonable doubt establishes that no other reasonable explanation exists other than the evidence presented to the court. Commonly used in criminal prosecutions, such as murder trials, this is the highest legal standard of proof.

Civil Case vs. Criminal Case

The standard of burden of proof is highest in a criminal case because criminal cases often affect a defendant's freedom. Prosecutors are required to provide evidence that sustains that a defendant's guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt.

The purpose of a civil case is to hold a defendant accountable to pay the victim a form of compensation. Various standards in determining the payment are considered depending on the claim and the proceeding.

Insurance Claims

In an insurance claim, the plaintiff has the burden of proof and is required to prove their right to compensation based on the insurance policy and submitted claim. Insurance companies will often use the courts to determine which company is responsible for providing coverage when more than one insurer is involved.

Sometimes the insured has several different policies covering similar or related risks or one party's insurance company may sue another as is the case of a car accident involving two or more vehicles. The insurers are required to demonstrate either that the loss was caused by an event that was not covered under the policy, or that another insurance company is responsible for the coverage.

Providing evidence to prove that insurance coverage applies can be complicated such as when a homeowner's house is destroyed during a hurricane. The homeowner’s policy may provide coverage for losses caused by wind but not by water. The insured must prove that the destruction was caused by wind damage, while the insurer will try to prove that the damage was caused by water. The courts may find that both types of risk caused the damage.

Example of Burden of Proof

Susan decides to invest $20,000 with Global Investors ABC, an investment management firm that has received positive reviews. However, after six months, with a downturn in the financial markets, Susan's $20,000 investment is depleted.

Susan believes that the loss of her money is due to the mismanagement of her money by the investors at Global Investors ABC as opposed to the downturn in the financial markets. The burden of proof lies with Susan. She will need to prove in court exactly how Global Investors ABC mismanaged her money which led to the entire loss of her investment as opposed to movements of the financial markets.

Who Bears the Burden of Proof in a Civil Case?

In a civil case, the burden of proof is borne by the plaintiff or the person filing the lawsuit, and this must be done by a preponderance of the evidence. The plaintiff must convince a jury that the claims are more likely true than not.

With Which Party Does the Burden of Proof Lie in a Criminal Trial?

In a criminal trial, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. The prosecution must convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charges brought against them.

Who Bears the Burden of Proof in an Insurance Case?

In an insurance case, the insured bears the burden of proof. The insured has to prove that the claim falls under the insurance policy. The insurer, on the other hand, bears the burden of proof in demonstrating that the claim does not fall under the insurance policy, and, therefore, is not responsible for paying any claims.

The Bottom Line

The burden of proof is a legal standard that requires parties to provide evidence to demonstrate that a claim is valid. Three levels of the burden of proof, "beyond a reasonable doubt," a "preponderance of the evidence," and "clear and convincing" determine the level of evidence required for a claim.

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  1. Colorado Law. "Burden of Proof."