The Burden of Persuasion

In a personal injury case, a court must weigh some sort of evidence before finding a defendant liable for harm. If there is no evidence, there can be no liability. In civil cases, such as those involving car accidents or construction injuries, the burden of producing evidence is on the plaintiff (the party who was injured). If this burden is not satisfied there will be no recovery. Less well known, however, is the more complex matter: the burden of persuasion.

A Preponderance of the Evidence – Burden of Production

In accordance with the due process protections of the United States Constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. In order to prove that a defendant is responsible for causing injury in civil cases, the plaintiff must introduce evidence that shows the defendant committed each required element of the “tort” (civil wrong). The factfinder- e.g., the jury- then determines whether they believe the defendant is liable by a “preponderance of the evidence.” The best way to view this standard is akin to “more likely than not.” This is far less exacting than the criminal law standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, the jury can still have some doubts, but, if taken together, they believe it is more likely that the defendant was negligent, then they can return a verdict for the plaintiff.

The Burden of Persuasion vs. the Burden of Production

In addition to the burden of producing evidence – the obligation to introduce evidence enough to prove each element of the crime charged – the plaintiff also has the burden of persuasion.

At first glance, it may seem odd that the burden of production and the burden of persuasion is not one and the same. If a plaintiff satisfies the burden of production by introducing evidence sufficient to establish each element of the negligence, why has the plaintiff not, then, satisfied the burden of persuasion? The difference between these two burdens rests on the different roles of the judge and jury. The burden of production is satisfied when the trial judge determines that the evidence (in theory) is sufficient to prove that the defendant is liable, while the burden of persuasion is satisfied only when the evidence (in actuality) is sufficient to convince the jury.

The reason for the difference lies in the fact that the jury is permitted to weigh the evidence differently than the judge. For example, the jury may gauge whether or not they find a particular witness credible. Thus, a plaintiff may satisfy the burden of production without satisfying the burden of persuasion.

If the Burden Is Not Satisfied

It is thus the burden of the plaintiff to persuade the jury that the defendant is liable, based on the evidence introduced at trial. It is the jury that ultimately decides, through the deliberation process, whether or not the plaintiff has satisfied this burden. If the jury is not persuaded by the evidence then they will return a verdict for the defendant.

The distinction between burden of production and burden of persuasion is one reason why it is critical to seek out an injury attorney who has experience in these specific cases. You need an attorney, like a personal injury lawyer from The Lawfirm of Frederick J. Brynn, P.C., who has the persuasive skills and understanding of trial practice to best convince a jury of the merits of your argument.

Contact an Experienced Accident Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident, be sure to contact a skilled legal professional. Experienced accident attorneys are dedicated to victims hurt by the negligence of others. Contact a law firm today to schedule your consultation.