Understanding the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
Both parties involved in personal injury cases often wonder who must present the evidence. Should the plaintiff support their claims and prove that the defendant caused the accident? Or should the defendant build a solid defense to counter the plaintiffs' allegations?
The duty of each party to prove their cases is determined by "the burden of proof." It is a legal standard that requires plaintiffs or defendants to provide evidence to show their claims are valid.
Understanding how the burden of proof works and the standards they should satisfy is essential for injured people planning to file a lawsuit against at-fault parties.
Here's more information about these legal standards and how they work for civil cases under Texas laws.
What Is the Burden of Proof?
As mentioned, the burden of proof is a legal standard that parties seeking to prove an allegation in court must satisfy in order to win a case. It is used in criminal and civil cases.
In the legal field, the burden of proof establishes how much evidence a party should put forth to prove their claims and demonstrate that the other party was at fault.
While this concept seems simple to understand and implement, it can be more complex in the real world. This legal standard varies depending on the type of case and the circumstances.
The Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases
Proof "beyond reasonable doubt" is the highest standard of proof for criminal cases in the country. The U.S. Constitution states that the evidence should be strong and convincing enough that no reasonable individual may question the defendant's guilt or find innocence rather than guilt.
Although it has been hotly debated since it came into effect, the "beyond reasonable doubt" standard applies to the most serious cases.
Courts consider whether claimants meet this standard in order to find a defendant guilty of a crime. Therefore, the jury must carefully and impartially review all of the evidence.
However, this does not mean that the jury is absolutely certain that an individual is guilty of a crime but that the evidence is so convincing that all members would be willing to act upon it.
The Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
In civil cases, including personal injury claims involving financial damages, the "preponderance of the evidence" determines the burden of proof.
This standard establishes that the evidence must convince the judge that it is more likely than not that the plaintiffs' allegations are valid and the defendant committed the action they were accused of.
Since no one will go to jail if found responsible for the injuries or losses that plaintiffs sustained, at least 51% of the evidence presented by the claimant must show that there was negligence, fraud, defamation, or wrongdoing.
Most civil lawsuits involve plaintiffs presenting testimonial and physical evidence while the defense disputes it. Claimants may lose the case if they do not pass the threshold.
Who Bears the Burden of Proof in a Texas Personal Injury Case?
All parties involved in a lawsuit should present evidence of their claims. In most cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. The party bringing the legal action must demonstrate that their allegations are valid.
As mentioned, plaintiffs should prove their allegations are true by the preponderance of evidence if they file a personal injury claim.
In other words, claimants must demonstrate that their injuries were caused by someone else's negligence.
A defendant only bears the burden of proof when they deny responsibility for the accident and seek affirmative relief.
The person against whom the civil action is brought may request "affirmative relief" for the injuries or losses they suffered during the same situation for which the plaintiff files the personal injury lawsuit.
The Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case – Example
If they are bringing a personal injury lawsuit for a car accident involving a drunk driver, plaintiffs must show that their injuries were caused by the defendant's negligence or wrongdoing.
Claimants can use different forms of evidence, such as police reports and witness testimonies, to show that it is more likely than not that the other party caused the accident.
However, if they deny liability, the defendant must prove that they were not drunk when they hit the injured party's car or that they were not at fault for the crash, even if the plaintiff presents no evidence suggesting otherwise.
What Happens When Allegations Are Serious?
If the plaintiff claims that the defendant showed willful disregard for another person's welfare or safety, which is a serious allegation, the court will use a higher standard of proof to evaluate the evidence.
To prove more aggravated conduct, plaintiffs are required to meet the "clear and convincing evidence" standard. It is typically used in personal injury and wrongful death cases where those bringing the legal action allege that the defendant was grossly negligent.
Clear and Convincing Evidence
When there is a serious allegation, the evidence provided by the plaintiffs should be strong enough for the jury to firmly believe that the allegations are true.
To satisfy the clear and convincing proof standard, a reasonable person should have a more-likely-than-not but firm belief that the defendant behaved as the plaintiff claims.
How to Satisfy the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
Whether it is a personal injury claim or a criminal case, the burden of proof always rests on the person who files the lawsuit, except in particular situations.
The plaintiff can satisfy the burden of proof in different ways. The most common is by presenting evidence, but it should be strong enough to convince the judge or jury that they meet the elements of the case based on the preponderance of the evidence.
Assuming someone filed a lawsuit for a workplace accident, the plaintiff would have to prove that the injuries they sustained were caused by the employer's negligence, for example.
Claimants must prove each element of the economic or non-economic damages they suffered as a result of the incident to recover compensation for them.
If they want to recover compensation for past medical expenses, plaintiffs must prove the reasonable costs of the medical care they needed and received. Injured people can also prove the amount of lost wages or income if it will impact their future financial situation in order to recover lost earnings.
These are the different types of evidence that plaintiffs can use to show that their claims are valid:
Medical records: This type of evidence is critical in personal injury claims, as it provides key information about the injuries victims sustained, the treatments they received, and associated costs. It may include medical bills, doctor's notes, test results, hospital records, and more.
Witness testimony: In personal injury claims, witness testimony can also be valuable evidence for the damages and losses victims suffered as a result of the accident. This type of evidence is essential to establish non-economic damages.
Expert opinions: When personal injury cases are complex, expert opinions can also be useful. Specialists in accident reconstruction or medicine engineering can provide their opinions on how the injuries were caused or how they affect victims.
Why Is It Important to Gather Evidence in a Civil Case?
In personal injury claims, gathering evidence can make the difference between a favorable and unfavorable outcome.
Strong evidence can help plaintiffs demonstrate that the at-fault party was negligent in causing the accident in order to meet the elements of liability under personal injury law. Additionally, it is key to prove the extent of the damages.
Without convincing evidence, plaintiffs may receive lower compensation or an unfair settlement and even get their cases dismissed.
Furthermore, evidence is necessary to negotiate with insurance companies. It is no secret that insurance adjusters always look for ways to reduce a settlement offer or even deny a claim. However, when plaintiffs have solid evidence, countering their arguments is easier.
Do Plaintiffs Need Help from Expert Personal Injury Lawyers?
As mentioned, gathering and presenting evidence is crucial to proving liability, establishing the extent of damages, and negotiating fair settlements with insurance companies.
However, after an accident, it may be difficult for injured people to collect all the documents and other types of evidence they need. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also answer questions such as what is respondeat superior in a personal injury case?
Since being prepared is essential, the best thing plaintiffs can do is seek help from an injury lawyer in Dallas.
Personal injury attorneys know the ins and outs of the Texas legal system and can guide victims through the process of filing a claim to hold at-fault parties accountable for their actions.
Additionally, lawyers can gather strong evidence to help claimants prove their allegations are true and establish the extent of the damages they suffered to recover fair compensation. They can also go into detail about assumption of risk in a personal injury case.
When plaintiffs work with experienced personal injury attorneys, they have the best chance of successful outcomes.
Contact Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys Today!
In personal injury cases, the burden of proof is on plaintiffs most of the time. The person bringing the lawsuit must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that their claims are true.
However, this can be challenging for a person who has just been in an accident and is injured. Therefore, our personal injury lawyers are willing to help victims fight for their rights and bring legal action against at-fault parties.
At Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys, we can help injured people file a lawsuit against responsible parties, collect evidence to prove their claims, and pursue fair compensation for the damages they suffered. Call us today!