TOP NEW YORK PRODUCTS LIABILITY LAWYERS ON THE BURDEN OF TRUTH
Twenty years ago OJ Simpson was arrested for the killings of his estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her lover Ronald Lyle Goldman, a restaurant waiter. Those old enough may remember the white Ford Bronco chase through the streets of Los Angeles where a despondent Simpson, a fugitive from justice, lay in the back seat of the truck, allegedly distraught and suicidal, while his longtime friend Al Cowlings drove the Bronco with dozens of LAPD patrol cars in full pursuit.
What ensued was an almost year long criminal trial, dubbed the Trial of the Century, with Simpson being acquitted on all charges. Many captivated viewers with eyes glued to their television screens recall a pivotal moment in the trial where Simpson’s lawyer Johnny Cochran implored the jurors: “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” And, Cochran prevailed with the jury. One simple fact, in a criminal trial that lasted more than eight months, like an ill-fitting glove the murderer was alleged to have been wearing when Simpson was murdered could turn the verdict in the defendant’s favor as it did in OJ’s case.
While many pundits subsequently blamed the acquittal of Simpson on the socioeconomic composition of the jury, according to Jay W. Dankner, Esq., managing partner in the New York civil justice and products liability law firm of Dankner Milstein P.C., the most relevant factor that differentiates the outcome of a criminal vs. civil trial comes down to a fundamental point of law known as burden of proof. (In 1997, a unanimous jury in a civil court case found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of Ronald Goldman and the stabbing of Nicole Brown).
“In the criminal trial, Dankner explained, “the prosecution had to prove Simpson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“If the evidence,” Dankner added, “suggested there was even a chance that someone other than Simpson did the crime, the jury was required to let him free (i.e. the glove didn’t fit). But in the civil trial that ensued, the burden on-the plaintiff (in this case the families of Brown and Goldman) was to prove that Simpson more likely than not caused the death of the victims. That means that there could be persuasive points on each side with the winning side just being slightly more persuasive”
To make his point even clearer about the differences between the prerequisites for burden of proof in a criminal vs. civil trial, Dankner draws on the analogy of an election as an example.
“If a candidate earns 50.1 percent of the vote to his opponents 49.9,” Dankner analogized, “he wins just as if the vote tally was 99-1. By comparison in a civil trial, just being ever so slightly more persuasive on the points you need to prove the defendant’s guilt, carries the day.”
Danker said all personal injury cases in New York State, whether they be products liability, negligence, medical malpractice or wrongful death require that the plaintiff prove his/her case with the less stringent burden of proof.