Burden of Proof in Civil Cases

A civil case is a legal matter involving civil law or common law, which involves disputes between individuals or any kind of organisation in which some form of compensation may be given to the victim of the case. For a civil suit to succeed and proof to be relied upon by the court, there are a few elements that need to be fulfilled:

-It has to be proven that all the elements of a civil suit exist.

-There was a duty of care on part of the defendant/ a right exists in favour of the plaintiff.

-There was a breach of such duty/violation of a right.

-The damage caused was a result of such breach of duty- causation.

-The breach caused injury and damage to the plaintiff.

In a civil case, a plaintiff does not have the burden to prove that the defendant was negligent/ failed to carry out his duties beyond a reasonable doubt or that the facts presented as evidence are complete and conclusive proof of the defendant’s negligence in the case. But then the burden is on the plaintiff to make the court believe that all facts are most likely to be true as being claimed. That is, the defendant is most likely to be negligent and therefore liable for the damage caused. The defendant can present evidence to prove his/her innocence. When it comes to cases involving personal injuries under a civil case the defendant is allowed to present an affirmative defence. An affirmative defence is basically when, the defendant can make a claim that the statute of limitations has expired, that the court does not have the jurisdiction over the said claim, or that the plaintiff has no legal right to file the claim. These defences may not necessarily state that or plaintiff’s case is not a true one, but it just intends to focus on stating that the defendant certainly cannot be held liable for any injuries. To understand better, let’s take an instance- if the injury that occurred during playing any sport, defendant of the case may put up an argument that the plaintiff was aware of the possible injury risks of playing that sport, and got injuries while playing the sport which was normal in that sport. It’s basically the defence of ‘volenti non fit injuria’. In the case of T.K. Mohammed Abubaker v. P.S.M. Abdul Khader(AIR 2009 SC 2966)in a suit for declaration of title and possession, the plaintiff has to prove that he has a right over the disputed property and just proving a defect in the title of the defendants is not enough.

Onus Probandi

The burden of adducing evidence rests on the party who would otherwise lose if no evidence is led by any of the parties. For instance, if X files a suit against Y on the basis of a bond. Y admits to the execution of the bond but claims that there was fraud on part of X. If no evidence is provided by Y to prove fraud, Y would lose. Therefore, the burden to lead evidence against X first lies on Y. After this, X would counter Y’s claims by producing his evidence. This is known as onus probandi. In the case of Gurdayal v. Malti Devi (AIR 1993 All 90), the court observed that burden of proving the basis of an ejection lies on the landlord. Therefore, the burden of proof in the sense of introducing evidence in the court of law constantly shifts during the trial.

Comparative/contributory negligence

The defendants can take the defence of contributory negligence and try to prove that the plaintiff was partly responsible for all the injuries sustained. For example, in an accident involving a car and a biker, the car driver might take the defence that the biker was driving on the wrong side of the road or that he was over-speeding and therefore, was responsible and contributed to the accident that was caused. The burden in order to prove any contributory negligence lies on the defendant only since he is the person making such a claim.

Preponderance of evidence

In civil cases, the fact or evidence need not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Preponderance of evidence is the accepted standard for proof. The fact just needs to be proven to an extent that there is a greater probability of it to be true. Civil cases aim to resolve a dispute which is very different from the aim in criminal cases where the seriousness of the offence is much higher. And therefore, just a fact being ‘mostly likely to be true’ is accepted by the court. This is called ‘balance of probabilities.’ In the case of Santosky v. Kramer (455 U.S. 745 (1982)),the honourable court observed that here must be a certain standard of proof so that the court could reach a conclusion and pass judgement in favour of the party that produces such evidence. If both the parties to a case present their evidence to prove their claims, the court has to analyse and weigh the evidence from plaintiff and defendant’s sides and give a decision in favour of the side which has a greater weight. In the case of Gurdayal v. Smt. Malti Devi (AIR 1993 ALL. 90), the court held that the court has to strike the balance of probability even in cases where fraud has to be proved.


Symbiosis Law School

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