In a California personal injury case, facts must generally be proved by a “preponderance of the evidence.” A plaintiff has proved a fact by a “preponderance of the evidence” if it is “more likely than not” that the fact is true.1
"Preponderance-of-the-evidence" requires a jury (or judge) to believe that the existence of a fact is more probable than its nonexistence.2
It is a lower standard of proof than “clear and convincing” evidence, which is generally used when a plaintiff is seeking punitive damages in a California personal injury case.
(It is also a much lower burden than proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard needed to convict a defendant in a California criminal case).
Example: Jeff claims that Kenneth ran a red light and smashed into his car. Jeff is suing Kenneth for compensatory damages of $145,000 (for medical bills, lost wages, car repair bills and pain suffering) plus punitive damages of $100,000.
To prevail on his claim for compensatory damages Jeff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Kenneth was responsible for the car accident.
But in order to get punitive damages, Jeff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that Kenneth acted with “malice, oppression or fraud.” In other words, he must prove that it was highly probably that Kenneth acted with recklessness (or at least more than ordinary negligence).
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