When one party sues another, the dispute goes to civil court. Most civil cases end in settlement, but some go to trial. The standard of proof at a civil trial is usually “preponderance of the evidence.”
At trial, the person suing (the plaintiff) usually must prove that the other party (the defendant) is more likely than not liable for some harm the plaintiff has suffered. The legal term for this “more likely than not” standard is “preponderance of the evidence.”
Suppose Steve sues Jack for battery after an argument during which Steve sustains a broken arm. Whether a judge or jury is deciding the case, Steve must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- he really is injured
- Jack intentionally touched Steve in a harmful or offensive way, and
- the contact caused the injury.
Otherwise, Jack will win.
Under the “preponderance” standard, it’s not enough for one side simply to provide more witnesses or more information than the other side. To meet the standard, the plaintiff’s evidence must be more convincing.
If the evidence a plaintiff presents in court does not clearly favor its side, or if the evidence indicates that two versions of events are equally likely to have occurred, then the plaintiff has not brought enough evidence to win the case. Going back to the Steve and Jack illustration above, if Jack shows that it’s equally likely that someone else is responsible for Steve’s broken arm, or that Steve simply fell during the argument and hurt himself, then Jack cannot be held liable for Steve’s injuries.