Preponderance of the Evidence

By Daisy Rogozinsky
July 21, 2022

In civil cases, the evidentiary standard used is called “preponderance of the evidence.” In this article, we’ll define the term “preponderance of the evidence” and give an example of how it works.

Key Takeaways

  • Preponderance of the evidence is one of the evidentiary standards used to meet the burden of proof
  • Under the preponderance of the evidence standard, the burden of proof is met when it is more likely than not, or there is more than a 50% chance, that the claim is true
  • Preponderance of the evidence is the lowest standard used in U.S. law
  • Preponderance of the evidence is used in civil trials, while criminal trials use “beyond a reasonable doubt”
  • In civil trials, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff’s side to offer a preponderance of the evidence that the claim they are making is true

What Is a Preponderance of the Evidence?

The term “preponderance of the evidence” refers to one type of evidentiary standard used in burden of proof analysis. Under this standard, the burden of proof is met when the party with the burden convinces the fact finder that there is more than a 50% chance that the claim is true. 

Preponderance of the evidence is the burden of proof used in civil trials. It is the lowest standard of the ones in use in the U.S. legal system.

In criminal trials, the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which requires there to be no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented at trial other than that the claim is true. 

Example of Preponderance of the Evidence

Let’s say that Marge is suing Jim in a civil trial for a personal injury. Marge claims that Jim, the owner of her local grocery store, did not take any steps to prevent customers from being injured by the loose stairway railing in his store. Marge claims that she tried to use the loose railing and fell, breaking her leg. 

In order for Marge to win the lawsuit, her legal team has the burden of proof of convincing the court that it is more probable than not that her claim is true. In order to do this, they will have to prove that:

    • Duty of care - Jim had a duty to his customers, including Marge, to maintain safe premises that would not cause injury
    • Breach of duty - That, by failing to fix the loose railing or mark it as a hazard, Jim breached his duty of care
  • Causation - Jim’s breach of care was the direct cause of Marge’s injury
  • Damages - Marge’s injury cost her a certain sum in damages that Jim is responsible to pay her

The plaintiff’s side, in this case, will have to use evidence to satisfy the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof. They can use things like witness statements, medical records, photographs, and medical bills to do so. In order to win the case, the plaintiff’s evidence and arguments will have to be more convincing than the defendant’s.

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