“More Likely Than Not”- The Legal Standard In Personal Injury Cases

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2015 at 3:34 pm    

justiceFootball season is upon us. All football fans, and even those who are not fans, have no doubt heard of the “Deflategate” scandal involving Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Thankfully games are now being played and the focus is once again on football. However, while watching the Fox pre-game show this past Sunday I listened to Howie Long rant about why he felt it was unfair and inappropriate that the NFL was able to take discipline against Tom Brady based on Ted Wells’s report, in which Mr. Wells concluded that it was “more probable than not” that Tom Brady was aware that the equipment staff had deflated the balls prior to the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. In Howie Long’s opinion, a much higher standard of proof should have been required before the NFL could come to such a conclusion and taint Tom Brady’s legacy. And so it occurred to me–is Howie Long unfamiliar with the legal standard applied in nearly every civil case throughout our country? My conclusion: it is more probable than not that Howie Long is not aware of the legal standard applied by judges and juries throughout our country!

An Injured Party Must Prove His/Her Case By A Preponderance Of The Evidence

We are personal injury attorneys who have successfully litigated cases in Philadelphia and throughout the rest of Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. While there a slight variations in the laws, there is one constant, whether we are in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware, and that is the burden of proof that an injured party must meet in order to prevail. That burden of proof requires the injured person to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. So what does that mean?

More Likely Than Not

More likely than not. Four words summarize the preponderance of the evidence legal standard. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle crash, or a slip and fall, you must prove that it is more likely than not that the other driver or property owner was negligent. So what does this mean? Take a look at the picture above. Do you see how the scales are slightly tipped? That is how most attorneys and judges explain the legal standard applicable in personal injury cases. If the plaintiff, or person injured, presents enough evidence that the jury concludes that the scales should tip ever so slightly in the plaintiff’s favor, the jury should return a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

The plaintiff must prove only that it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent, and that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff sustained personal injuries as a result of the defendant’s negligence.

So What’s The Problem Howie?

Howie Long is not alone. Many people are not familiar with the legal standard applied in civil cases throughout our country, or, perhaps they simply do not feel it is fair. During the jury selection process in Philadelphia all jurors are required to fill out a written questionnaire. One of the questions asks whether the potential juror would have any problem following the judge’s instructions in a civil case that the plaintiff has the burden of proof, but unlike in a criminal case, the test is not beyond a reasonable doubt but is more likely than not. During every single one of our trials there is at least one potential juror who indicates that he/she would have difficulty following the judge’s instructions regarding the burden of proof. So why is this?

There are likely a multitude of reasons, however, one reason is that the majority of us are simply more familiar with the legal standard applied in criminal cases-beyond a reasonable doubt. Most of us have watched portions of a famous criminal trial on television, or an episode of Law & Order. We have heard the phrase guilty beyond a reasonable doubt spoken out loud by attorneys, judges, and actors. It is ingrained in our heads. Most of us have not been involved in a personal injury lawsuit, and so perhaps the phrase preponderance of the evidence is less familiar and less understood. Why the different standards? Well, remember the Constitution provides that a individual is innocent until proven guilty. Thus, there is a legal presumption heading into a trial that the individual accused is innocent. The government must overcome this presumption by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime and is guilty. This standard, beyond a reasonable doubt, means that the government must prove that based on the evidence introduced there is no other logical conclusion to be drawn from the evidence, no doubt whatsoever that he/she committed the crime.

There is No Legal Presumption In A Civil Case That The Defendant Was Not Negligent

Unlike in a criminal trial, there is no legal presumption in a civil case that the defendant was not negligent in causing the motor vehicle crash or slip and fall. Thus, the legal standard of more likely than not is far more appropriate than negligent beyond a reasonable doubt would be. We are not seeking to take away an individual’s freedom when we file a lawsuit against that person for personal injuries. Rather, we are seeking to hold the individual accountable for the harms and losses he/she has caused. So in short, if we are seeking to send someone to jail-proof beyond a reasonable doubt is appropriate, but if we are seeking to hold someone accountable for his/her negligence, more likely than not is far more appropriate.

So now you know. Should the NFL have been required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Tom Brady was aware of the deflating of the footballs? Well, there were no criminal charges brought against Tom Brady were there? Ted Wells, who conducted the investigation, is an attorney, and so he applied the legal standard applicable in civil cases throughout the country. Whatever your feelings are on this matter, and regardless of your opinion of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots-it seems to me that Mr. Wells employed the appropriate legal standard given the circumstances.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, call to speak to the attorneys at Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC at (215) 875-7030 or contact us today for a free consultation.

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