Who Has the Burden of Proof in Civil Cases?

You are in a dispute with someone and decide to contact an attorney. You think you want to sue. When you reach the attorney he or she asks you what proof you have to support your claim. You respond “I’m not sure, but he hurt me and I want to sue”.

There’s a big difference between wanting to sue, and actually suing and proving a case in court.

Once an attorney takes a dispute into a courtroom there are rules that apply. The rules are supposed to apply to everyone equally. The rule on “burden of proof” is one of those rules, and concerns who goes first at trial.

In a civil trial involving an injury, the “plaintiff” (the party who sues) has the “burden of proof”. This means that the plaintiff has to present evidence that the defendant (the party being sued) is at fault, and that the plaintiff was injured as a result of that fault. If a plaintiff fails to come forward with credible evidence, the case will be dismissed.

Here’s a simple example:

AA parks his car on the street and goes into his house. The next morning AA wakes up to find that someone crashed into his car and totaled it. AA suspects his neighbor BB, and accuses BB of smashing his car. AA decides to sue BB. The court sets the case for trial. … At trial AA has to come forward with admissible credible evidence that BB smashed into his car. AA has to establish BB was at the crash scene. Even if AA shows that BB’s car looks like it was in a crash, AA has to have witnesses that BB’s car was involved in THIS crash, and that BB was driving or someone with permission was driving BB’s car. … Mere allegations are not proof. Proof comes through witnesses with firsthand knowledge, or through credible circumstantial evidence such as a fingerprint, paint residue, etc.

In a civil case a defendant does not have to prove that he did nothing wrong or submit an alibi. Until and unless the plaintiff submits his proof, the defendant is presumed not to be at fault, and if a plaintiff can’t prove his case, the claim against the defendant is dismissed.

Why do I share this information? Because facts matter. When you call an attorney about a potential case expect the attorney to ask questions about what happened and about the evidence that is available to prove the case in court.

The Law Offices of David W. Holub is a personal injury law firm located in Merrillville, Indiana. We focus on providing efficient and effective client-centered representation. If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of someone and you would like to know if your case has merit call (219)736-9700 to speak to one of our attorneys.

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