In every criminal and civil case in Missouri, both the burden of proof and evidentiary standards are applied to the legal proceedings. These rules stipulate which party is responsible for proving fault and to what extent they must justify their claim.
The burden of proof in Missouri is the obligation to establish the elements on the subject of the claim. In a criminal trial, the prosecution solely has the burden of proof and must demonstrate a defendant’s (at-fault party’s) guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Whereas in a civil trial, the burden of proof is much lower and is initially on the plaintiff (victim) and can then shift to the defendant.
There are various legal standards of proof used depending on the legal circumstances and type of case. The evidence provided in a claim must meet these evidentiary standards, and if it does not, a jury cannot legally consider it when deciding the case. In civil lawsuits, there are two types of evidentiary standards: preponderance of evidence and clear and convincing evidence.
In the majority of civil cases, it is the plaintiff’s obligation to prove their claim by a preponderance of evidence. It is the lowest standard of proof, which requires a plaintiff (victim) to satisfy the burden of proof by offering evidence that their claim is more likely to be true than not true. Therefore, the plaintiff must show the court that there is a greater than 50% that the defendant is responsible for their harm and damages.
For example, a plaintiff suing another party for causing a car accident must convince the courts that it is more probable than not that the defendant caused the crash, which resulted in their injuries. This can be done by offering testimony, photographs, video, and any other evidence of probable fault.
In some civil cases, the burden of proof is elevated to the clear and convincing evidence standard. It has a higher standard of proof than preponderance of evidence but is still lower than proving beyond a reasonable doubt. The clear and convincing standard requires proof that a defendant’s fault is “highly” or “substantially” more likely to be true than not true. In comparison, the preponderance of evidence requires 51% or greater probability and the clear and convincing standard requires evidence that a claim has a significantly greater than 50% probability.
In 2020, a law passed in Missouri raised the standard of proof for recovering punitive damages in cases against employers. Plaintiffs must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with a flagrant disregard for others’ safety or intentionally caused them harm without just cause. Previously, plaintiffs had the burden of proof to establish that the defendant showed a “complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”
The process for pleading punitive damages is also much harder. Under this new law, plaintiffs cannot include a claim for punitive damages in their initial pleading but must first seek leave of the court no later than 120 days before the final pre-trial conference or trial date. The court will then determine if, based on the evidence at trial, the trier of fact can reasonably conclude the standards for awarding punitive damages are met.