Preponderance of Evidence

When an individual files a lawsuit against another person or entity, he must prove to the judge or jury that his claims are true. The phrase preponderance of evidence refers to the level of proof the plaintiff must provide. In simple terms, the plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the facts presented are true. To explore this concept, consider the preponderance of evidence definition.

Definition of Preponderance of Evidence


  1. Evidence that persuades a judge or jury to lean to one side as opposed to the other, during the course of litigation.

What is Preponderance of Evidence

Preponderance of evidence is the standard by which most civil lawsuits in the U.S. must be proved. This standard requires the plaintiff to prove, based on evidence and witness testimony presented, that there is a greater than 50 percent likelihood that the defendant caused the damage or other wrong. If the plaintiff fails to prove his case by a preponderance of evidence, the defendant would likely not have to defend his case.

For example:

John files a lawsuit against Mary, claiming she damaged his property while renting his condominium. John provides the court with pictures taken before Mary moved in, and after she moved out, to prove that the damages occurred while she was in possession of the property. Mary provides witness testimony to back up her claim that the damage existed when she moved into the condo. Mary does not have photos or other documentation showing the condition of the condo prior to moving in.

By showing the court the condition of the condo at the time it was rented to Mary, and the condition after she moved out, John has proven by a preponderance of evidence that Mary caused, or was responsible for, the damages. John has met his burden of proof, and will likely collect from Mary.

Burden of Proof

In any court case, whether criminal or civil, the responsibility for proving that the allegations in the case are true rests on the individual who filed the lawsuit, or who is prosecuting a person accused of committing a crime. This responsibility is called the “burden of proof.” In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove to the judge or jury that there is no doubt that the defendant committed the crime. This burden of proof is referred to as “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In a civil lawsuit, the burden of proof is less stringent, with the plaintiff only being required to prove to the court that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused the Plaintiff’s damages. This burden of proof is referred to as a “preponderance of evidence.” There are, in fact, three levels of proof required in different types of court cases. These include:

  • Preponderance of Evidence – Used in civil court cases, this standard of proof must convince the judge or jury that the facts as presented by the plaintiff are more likely than not to be true. In most cases, this means that there must be at least a 51 percent likelihood that the facts are true.
  • Clear and Convincing Evidence – the standard of proof used in many equity cases, such as paternity determination, child custody, juvenile delinquency, probate, and persons in need of supervision. Evidence in this standard must be substantially more probable to be true, and give the judge or jury a firm belief that it is true. This is a higher standard of proof than preponderance of evidence.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – the standard of proof required in criminal cases, in which the prosecution must convince the judge or jury that the defendant’s guilt is so sure, that there is no way a rational person could have any doubt.


James is suing Charlotte for crashing into his car while it was parked since she did not carry insurance to cover the cost of the damage. He is asking the court to order Charlotte to pay to replace his vehicle, as the amount needed to repair it exceeds its value. Because James is the person who filed the lawsuit, he must prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that the accident was Charlotte’s fault.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.