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Everything you need to know about the burden of proof

By January 15, 2024February 13th, 2024News, Personal Injury
Burden of proof statue

In everyday language, we think of “proof” as absolute—but the movie Training Day challenges this notion. It reveals the deceptive nature of good and bad as a corrupt cop mentors a rookie in illegal policing for personal gain and power. The evidence gathered by the rookie doesn’t hold up to public opinion. Ultimately, the corrupt cop is deemed a hero. The point of telling this story is that sometimes, proof may not be good enough. In court, the type of proof depends on the requirements of the particular court. 

What is the “burden of proof” anyway?

Well, that depends on the type of law. In civil cases (think motor vehicle accidents, personal injury claims, contract disputes, etc.), the standard is Preponderance of Evidence. Generally, this means there’s a 50% chance the claim is true plus a little something more, just enough to tip the scales in your favor. This is generally the lowest burden of proof in legal matters, meaning it’s the easiest to prove in court.

Next on the list in Washington State is the Clear, Cogent, and Convincing Evidence standard. This is a higher standard of proof than just a preponderance of evidence, and it applies to matters such as child custody and adoption proceedings or civil fraud cases. “Proof by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence” means that the claim must be proved by evidence that carries greater weight and is more convincing than a preponderance of the evidence. [It] exists when the occurrence of the claim has been shown by the evidence to be highly probable.” This is the Washington Pattern Jury Instruction given to juries in civil fraud cases. Although this standard is higher than a Preponderance of the Evidence, it’s lower than Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. An example of what may satisfy this burden could be a document that contains a signature from a person who is accused of fraud, and the signature is verified as authentic by a forensic document and signature examiner. This seems pretty solid, certainly more than a mere preponderance, but it could leave some reasonable room for doubt (i.e. maybe the document was forged by a really good con artist).

Finally, we have the standard of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. This is the one we hear on almost every lawyer show ever made, and it’s a tough standard to prove. That’s why it’s applied in matters of grave importance, for example, a murder trial. The plaintiff here (or in the case of a murder, the prosecutor) must show that their allegations are true to the point that a reasonable person would agree to the claims after fully, fairly, and carefully considering all of the evidence or lack of evidence.

Okay, but how do I prove my case?

“It ain’t what you know; it’s what you can prove.”  I always tell my clients this (with a little help from Denzel Washington in Training Day). 

If you’ve been in a motor vehicle accident and the insurance company is fighting back on authorizing treatment, you might need to prove the treatment is necessary. You know what the doctor told you, but if the doc didn’t put it in writing, you can’t prove it (this is where hearsay comes in, but that’s another blog). When you need to prove something in court or during the administration of an insurance claim, you can’t rely on just what you know – you gotta prove it by facts and evidence.

In every matter Carlisle + Byers takes on, we’re on the hunt for things like:

  • Witness statements
  • Medical notes
  • Police reports
  • Photographs
  • Video
  • Medical testimony

Without evidence like this, not even the lowest of the burdens (Preponderance of the Evidence) can be met. As the burdens get more difficult to prove, the evidence required doesn’t necessarily change, but it needs to carry more weight or more of it to prevail. In a medical case, the opinion of two doctors versus one might pass a preponderance test, but it probably wouldn’t meet the burden of beyond reasonable doubt. The collective influence of two doctors over one, witness statements, pictures of the scene, and a police report? Now we’re closer to getting to beyond reasonable doubt.

Is your burden of proof rock solid? 

If you know something but need help proving it, schedule a free consultation with Carlisle + Byers or call us at (509) 228-7011. Because, in the spirit of Training Day, “It takes a wolf to catch a wolf.”