Preponderance of the Evidence: Legal Meaning, Standard of Proof and Preponderance in Civil Cases

What is Preponderance of the Evidence?

Preponderance of the evidence is a legal standard in civil cases that requires a party to prove that their claim is more likely true than not true, effectively demonstrating a greater than fifty per cent likelihood based on the presented evidence.

Preponderance of the Evidence Legal Meaning

Understanding the Preponderance of the Evidence Standard in Legal Proceedings

Preponderance of the Evidence: Various standards of proof are employed to determine the outcome of different cases. One such standard, commonly used in civil litigation, is the “preponderance of the evidence.”

This article aims to comprehensively understand this standard, its implications, and its application in legal proceedings.

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Introduction to Standards of Proof

Before delving into the specifics of the preponderance of the evidence, it’s essential to understand the concept of a “standard of proof.” In legal terms, the standard of proof refers to the certainty required to establish a fact or a set of facts in a legal proceeding.

Different cases and legal situations call for different standards of proof, each with its threshold of certainty.

For instance, in criminal cases, the standard is typically “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a much higher threshold than the preponderance of the evidence. This distinction is crucial because the consequences in criminal cases (e.g., imprisonment) are more severe than in civil cases (e.g., monetary damages).

Defining Preponderance of the Evidence

The “preponderance of the evidence” derives from the word “preponderate,” meaning to outweigh or exceed in amount, importance, or strength. In legal terms, this standard is met if the proposition is more likely to be true than not true.

Effectively, a party must convince the trier of fact, whether a judge or a jury, that there is a greater than fifty per cent chance that their claim is true.

To visualize this, imagine a set of scales. If the evidence presented by one side makes the scales tip ever so slightly in their favour, they have met the preponderance of the evidence standard.

Application in Civil Cases

The preponderance of the evidence standard is predominantly used in civil litigation. Civil cases often involve disputes between individuals or entities regarding rights, responsibilities, and liabilities. Examples include personal injury cases, contract disputes, and property disputes.

In such cases, the plaintiff (the party bringing the claim) is burdened to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. If they succeed in doing so, they are typically entitled to remedies such as damages, specific performance, or injunctions.

Implications of the Standard

The choice of this standard in civil cases reflects the nature and stakes of such disputes. Since civil litigation does not involve the potential deprivation of liberty, the required certainty is lower than in criminal cases.

However, this does not diminish the importance of the standard. Meeting the preponderance of the evidence threshold ensures that decisions are made based on a reasonable and fair evaluation of the evidence presented.

Distinction from Other Standards

It’s crucial to differentiate the preponderance of the evidence from other standards:

  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: This is the highest legal standard for criminal cases. It requires that the evidence presented by the prosecution leaves no reasonable doubt in the mind of the trier of fact regarding the defendant’s guilt.
  • Clear and Convincing Evidence: This standard requires a higher level of certainty than the preponderance of the evidence but less than beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s used in specific civil cases where more is at stake, such as involuntary commitment proceedings or termination of parental rights.

What Role Do Expert Witnesses Play In Establishing This Standard?

Expert witnesses can provide specialised knowledge and insights that the judge or jury may lack, helping to clarify complex issues, technical details, or specific subject matters pertinent to the case.

Expert witnesses can substantiate or challenge the parties’ claims by offering objective informed opinions based on their expertise. Their testimonies can tilt the balance of evidence, making a claim more or less likely to be true.

They are pivotal in establishing the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in civil trials. Given their influential position, expert witnesses are subjected to rigorous scrutiny regarding their qualifications and the validity of their testimonies.

While they don’t determine the outcome directly, their input can significantly impact how the evidence is weighed, thereby influencing the final judgment based on the preponderance of the evidence standard.

What happens if neither party meets the preponderance of the eVidence Standard In A Case?

If neither party meets the preponderance of the evidence standard in a case, the party with the burden of proof, typically the plaintiff, fails to establish their claim. Since they couldn’t demonstrate that their claim was more likely true than not, the court would not rule in their favour.

Essentially, the status quo is maintained. For instance, if the plaintiff cannot meet the standard in a civil lawsuit, the defendant is not held liable. It is crucial to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean the court believes the defendant’s version of events; rather, the plaintiff simply didn’t provide sufficient evidence.

Hww Do Courts Instruct Juries About The Preponderance Of The Evidence Standard?

Courts provide juries with clear instructions about the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to ensure a fair and informed evaluation of the evidence presented. Judges explain that this standard requires a party to prove their claim is more likely true.

If the evidence makes it seem that there’s a greater than fifty per cent chance that a claim is true, then the standard is met.

Jurors are often told to imagine a set of scales; if one side’s evidence tips the balance, even slightly, in their favour, they have satisfied the standard.

Judges emphasise that evidence’s quality, not necessarily quantity, matters. They guide jurors to consider the evidence’s credibility, relevance, and consistency.

Jurors are also reminded that this standard is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases, helping them differentiate between the two.


The preponderance of the evidence standard plays a pivotal role in ensuring fairness and justice in civil litigation.

While it may seem simple, its application requires careful consideration and evaluation of the evidence presented. As with all legal standards, it is a testament to the law’s commitment to balance, fairness, and justice.

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