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To Infer or to Imply

When a person opens an umbrella what does that tell us about the weather? When a ship’s captain brings aboard his wife and children what does that say about what he thinks of the seaworthiness of the vessel?

These are classic examples of conduct from which we make inferences.
Indeed, Judges instruct jurors that inference – really circumstantial evidence – can be as reliable, or more so, than testimonial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is not “mere” evidence and should not be disparaged.

People make inferences all the time and (forgive the rhyme) that is divine. What is not divine are those people who confuse infer with imply. When a speaker says something, or alludes to something, he/she is not inferring; he/she is implying. We, the listener, may well infer something from a statement; that is from the implication.

When a lawyer confuses infer and imply, we may well infer that he/she is unaware of the value of circumstantial evidence. The lawyer’s misconception is unfortunate and all the more galling because the notion of inference is embedded in the law, whether criminal law or civil law, including personal injury.

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