Regardless of whether you are bringing a personal injury claim or one is being brought against you, it is crucial to understand what the burden of proof is and how it might apply to your personal injury case. In every lawsuit, a plaintiff or defendant bears the burden of proving their case and meeting the required legal standard. The party that bears the burden must present enough evidence to meet the standard in order to win their case. The party who does not bear the burden merely has to show that the standard has not been met.
In personal injury cases, the burden of proof falls on the person bringing the suit, the plaintiff. The burden of proof in a personal injury case is “a preponderance of the evidence.” Accordingly, the plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. What this means is further explored below.
What is a Preponderance of the Evidence?
Preponderance of the evidence means that the plaintiff must show that they have more likely than not met all the elements of the case. In other words, the plaintiff must show there is a greater than 50% chance that the case tips in their favor.
Most personal injury cases involve negligence.
A plaintiff suing for negligence must prove four elements by a preponderance of the evidence, including:
- The defendant owed them a duty of care
- The defendant breached this duty
- The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff injury
- The plaintiff experienced damages
For example, let’s imagine a scenario in which you have been in an auto accident. You were rear-ended by a driver whose brakes were defective and hurt your neck. The driver knew their brakes were defective and neglected to fix them. In such a case, you are likely dealing with a negligent driver and would bring a negligence case against him.
In this example, you would need to prove that it was more likely than not that the driver was negligent in causing the accident. Therefore, as long as you present evidence that strongly suggests there is a greater than 50% chance that he was negligent, you have met your burden.
How is the Burden of Proof Met?
A party meets its burden of proof through the evidence it uses during trial. There are two types of evidence: direct and circumstantial. Direct evidence is evidence such as eyewitness testimony. An eyewitness will testify directly to what they saw related to the accident being sued over. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that proves a fact by which you can logically conclude another fact exists.
Some evidence a party might use in their case includes:
- Documents: documents can include any data (medical, technical, scientific, etc.) or any legally obtained photographs, videos or voice memos, interrogatories, and more.
- Testimonies: witnesses, the plaintiff, the defendant, and expert witnesses may all be able to testify in court as to what occurred and how it happened.
As previously noted, a negligence claim has four elements to it. The preponderance of the evidence standard used in personal injury cases applies to every single element of a case. Thus, to win your personal injury case, you must show that the defendant more likely than not had a duty of care to you, breached that duty, caused the accident, and you suffered injuries.
For example, proving that you suffered an injury by a preponderance of the evidence would be rather easy to show. Medical evidence and testimony that your neck was injured in the accident would show that it is more likely than not you suffered injuries due to the defendant’s conduct. Other elements might be more complex, but there are various evidentiary means that are used to showcase that the burden of proof has been met.
What if You are on the Other Side of a Personal Injury Claim?
Let’s turn our auto accident example around. Let’s imagine that you are a driver who got into an accident due to your defective brakes. How might the burden of proof affect your personal injury case when the claim is brought against you?
There is generally no burden of proof on the defendant to disprove the plaintiff’s claim. The defendant is not required to offer any affirmative proof that they were not negligent to prevail in the case. However, to avoid liability or mitigate damages that might arise out of the claim, the defendant will argue the plaintiff failed to show they were more likely than not negligent.
Even if you cannot affirmatively prove you did not breach your duty, you can win your case by showing that the plaintiff failed to prove you did by a preponderance of the evidence.