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Presumptions in Civil Practice

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Rules 301 and 302 of the Federal Rules of Evidence are discussed by a representative panel of lawyers in this videotape.
Rule 301 of the Federal Rules of Evidence defines presumption in the following manner: in all civil actions and proceedings not otherwise provided for by an act of Congress or by these rules, a presumption imposes on the party against whom it is directed the burden of going forward with evidence to rebut or meet the presumption, but does not shift to such party the burden of proof in the sense of risk of nonpersuasion, which remains throughout the trial upon the party on whom it was originally cast. The panel discusses reasons why presumptions are created by the courts and legislators. These include (1) a general fairness to correct the imbalance as to the source of proof, (2) social or economic policy, (3) avoidance of an impasse in proceedings so that some result can be reached, and (4) the theory of probability -- that what is likely to have occurred is deemed to have occurred. This last reason is the most frequent use of presumption. The legislative history of rule 301, which deals only with civil actions, is outlined. The practical consequence of rule 301 is that presumptions are not conclusive and may be challenged. Rule 302 codifies the ruling in the Erie Railroad Company versus Tompkins case; this rule does not change any prior rulings.


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