Personal injury cases have a completely different standard of proof than criminal cases. It makes sense because there is money at stake as opposed to someone’s freedom.
As opposed to proving facts necessary to incarcerate someone, you are trying to prove the defendant’s negligence.
The Standard for Negligence in a Personal Injury Case
The first thing to know is what you have to prove to receive personal injury compensation. When we talk about the standard of proof in a personal injury case, we are discussing evidence of the defendant’s negligence that entitles you to money. There are four things that are required here. They are:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care by acting unreasonably under the circumstances
- You suffered some kind of an injury (to your person or property, or both)
- You would not have suffered this injury had it not been for the negligence of the defendant
When we talk about burden of proof in a personal injury case, you must prove all four of these elements of the negligence test. The failure to prove any one of these will doom your case and keep you from receiving compensation.
The Lower Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Claim
Civil law and criminal law are two completely different things. You will not hear the words “beyond a reasonable doubt” when you are looking to file a negligence lawsuit.
Nonetheless, you are still trying to receive assets from the defendant to pay you for your injuries. You will still need to prove something because the jury will not simply give you the defendant’s money without meeting your own burden of proof.
However, when you are able to prove enough and overcome an affirmative defense, you could be in position to be compensated.
A Different Burden Does Not Mean that You Do Not Need Proof
Accident victims will still need to prove their cases in court. Namely, they will need to show that the defendant owed them a duty of care and violated that duty.
They will need convincing evidence of this, as the jury does not just take the plaintiff’s word for it in personal injury lawsuits.
What Is Preponderance of the Evidence?
The standard in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard in a civil case is that you need to prove the negligence of the evidence by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a legal term that has a precise meaning.
This rule of evidence means that you must show that it is more likely than not that your side of the story happened.
As the injured party, you do not need to provide evidence that proves with 100% certainty that you are entitled to financial compensation for injuries caused by the defendant.
The preponderance of the evidence standard is more like a jump ball at a basketball game. You need to get just past the 50% mark with enough evidence in a convincing manner to demonstrate someone else’s negligence.
Examples of Meeting the Burden of Proof in Personal Injury Cases
Here are some ways to meet your burden of proof in specific types of personal injury cases:
- Proving that the defendant knew about a dangerous condition on their property and failed to fix it or warn the general public
- Proving that a doctor failed to diagnose a disease because they did not take the same steps that a reasonable doctor would
- You have shown that the defendant made an illegal turn that caused your car accident
- You have proven that a trucking company did not properly inspect and maintain their trucks, causing a tire blowout that resulted in the crash that injured you.
Can the Defendant Use Affirmative Defenses?
As the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof for personal injury claims. Your personal injury lawyer would present evidence that they gathered to prove your claim.
The key question in civil law is how much evidence you need in an injury case. Rather than worrying about the quantity of evidence, you should focus on the quantity in civil cases. What the jury believes is a matter of how persuasive the evidence presented is at trial.
How to Present Evidence in a Personal Injury Suit
The plaintiff’s version of events must be backed up by proof to meet the evidence burden. You would need to present sufficient evidence the same way that you would in a criminal case.
You may even need the same type of evidence, albeit with a lower standard of proof in a personal injury claim.
The plaintiff’s attorney would work in the days after the injury to gather this evidence. They could use the following to show the plaintiff’s injury:
- Witness testimony from people who saw the accident
- Forensic reports about the accident that could show what happened (e.g., an analysis of the damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle)
- Expert testimony reconstructing the incident
- Pictures of the scene of the accident
You Also Need Evidence of Injuries
Remember that there are four parts of the negligence test. One of them is that you have suffered an injury. Otherwise, there would be nothing for which you should receive compensation.
Here, you would need things such as:
- Your medical records that would show your diagnosis and prognosis
- Medical bills that would quantify the damages that you suffered
- Expert testimony from a doctor that would detail what you face
Other Evidence in Personal Injury Cases
Your personal injury lawsuit must not only meet the burden of proof for entitlement, but you must also prove your damages as well.
One key part of your damages is lost wages. When you are unable to work or your earnings capacity is reduced, you can be paid for the lost wages.
For validation purposes, you will need proof of what you could have made had you not been injured. The jury considers things such as your earnings history and your career path in setting these damages.
Injury attorneys may even employ economic and career experts to show what you could have made years into the future.
The Burden of Proof for Punitive Damages
One way that your personal injury damages increase is when you show that you deserve punitive damages. This adds an entirely new element to your negligence claim.
Here, the burden of proof is different from the one that would hold the defendant liable for damages in the first place. You would need to show by clear and convincing evidence that you are entitled to punitive damages.
Juries rarely award punitive damages in civil cases, so this is a pretty high burden of proof. You would usually not be able to meet the burden of proof in a “standard” car accident negligence claim.
You may be able to meet the burden of proof if you can show something else.
For example, if the plaintiff’s injuries were the result of extremely reckless driving or drunk driving, you may get punitive damages. Here, evidence that the defendant committed a crime could be helpful.
Illinois Law Firm for Personal Injury Cases
The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers are experienced Illinois lawyers who can provide you with legal advice for your personal injury claim.
Contact us today for a free consultation to learn how we can help you. We will review your case and explain your legal options to you.
Our legal services come at no cost to you unless we help you recover money, whether it is through a settlement or jury award.