How do you prove that someone was negligent in a personal injury case?
The key to compensation in a personal injury claim is proving negligence. Without this, you will not receive a check for your injuries.
The question in any case is how to prove that the defendant engaged in negligent conduct. Each person has their own side of the story, and you will not be paid personal injury damages unless you prove yours.
This is why you hire a personal injury attorney, and our law firm can help you.
The Elements of a Personal Injury Claim
The legal concept of negligence is measured against what the average person would have done under the circumstances. In determining fault, people are not expected to be perfect, and the law recognizes that accidents do happen.
These are the following four elements of a personal injury claim:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- They breached the duty of care by acting unreasonably under the circumstances
- You suffered an injury
- You would not have been injured had it not been for the actions of the defendant
Each of these elements requires proof in order for you to receive financial compensation. It is not enough just to say that the defendant breached the duty of care.
The Critical Importance of Proving Negligence
In personal injury cases, the question is not about your story of what happened. It is about what you can prove in your case. If you do not have the evidence to back your story, it is as if it never occurred.
This is why proving fault is so critical. The insurance company will not want to write a check based on a story of the plaintiff’s harm.
The Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
When trying to prove that the defendant breached the duty of care, you must show it by a preponderance of the evidence. This is the legal term for proving that something is more likely than not to have happened.
This is a lower standard than a criminal law case, where the prosecutor must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even though there is a lower standard, your claims must still be accompanied by evidence to show that the defendant breached their legal duty.
How the Defendant’s Actions Are Judged
The standard that will be used to evaluate the defendant’s responsibility will compare their actions to that of a reasonable person under similar circumstances.
You would need to argue what a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances and compare it to what the defendant actually did.
The legal principle requires that you show that the defendant fails to uphold their duty of care because his or her actions were unreasonable in comparison to what the normal person would have done. You need to show how a reasonable person would have acted differently.
The Defendant’s Position in Your Case
The defendant’s position in any negligence case is that they exercised the degree of care that they were expected to use. They would argue that they did not do what you have claimed they did.
Alternatively, they could admit that they did what they are accused of, but that it was not a breach of duty. Having solid evidence means that it is not just your word against theirs.
Evidence for Your Negligence Claim
With that in mind, your primary task as you are trying to prove negligence is to gather proof of what the defendant actually did. The jury will be the ones to assess the defendant’s breach. You need to show them proof of exactly what happened.
For example, if the plaintiff’s injury involved a slip and fall case, your claim would consist of evidence of what the conditions were like at the time of the injury.
If your claim involves an auto accident, you would need proof of what the other driver was doing at the time of the accident. For instance, they could have been speeding or made an illegal turn to cause the crash.
What Would a Reasonably Prudent Person Have Done?
The defendant’s legal obligation is not to guarantee your safety and prevent every possible accident. Instead, they must exercise reasonable care.
You would need to show how exactly their conduct differed from the reasonable person standard. One example of this is in a medical malpractice case.
Much of the evidence that your attorney would use in court would involve establishing what a reasonable doctor would have done. Then, your lawyer would make a point-by-point comparison of where your doctor fell short.
In the car accidents example, a reasonable driver is presumed to follow all motor vehicle traffic rules and to drive safely and not travel over the speed limit.
Your evidence is more about the breach of duty than the fact that the defendant owed a duty at all. Drivers are usually presumed to owe a duty of care to all other drivers on the road.
Evidence That Helps Personal Injury Claims
With that in mind, here is some of the actual evidence that could help prove fault in a personal injury case:
- Pictures of a store or area to show that property owners have legal responsibility for dangerous conditions on their land. These are helpful in a premises liability claim, such as a slip and fall.
- Eyewitness testimony from people who saw the accident and can testify what happened. Testimony from an objective witness who had no prior connection to you can help prove your case.
- Video evidence from a security camera that recorded what happened
- Documentary evidence, such as maintenance logs that show what a property owner or other person did to inspect and fix problems on their property
- Records, such as employment records or legal documents that could show a previous track record of lack of compliance with laws.
Expert Witnesses in Your Negligence Claim
Showing that the injury occurred and what the defendant did is only part of the challenge that you face. You must explain what the duty of care would have involved. In more complex cases, you may need an expert to explain that to the jury.
In the medical malpractice example, you must explain what a reasonable doctor would have done, and the only way to do that is to have an expert doctor detail that to the jury. They could outline the duty of care expected under the circumstances.
The Challenges of Proving Fault in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you are filing a personal injury claim, chances are that you have suffered a physical injury.
You will see scores of attorney websites that tell you what to do after an accident to gather evidence that you will need for your negligence claim.
While it is usually good advice, attorneys overlook the fact that you are likely reading this page after your injury and not at the scene of the accident.
In addition, the injury victims cannot act as their own investigators. They are both injured and do not have the same evidence gathering skills as a personal injury lawyer.
In the meantime, valuable evidence can be lost that is needed to hold the defendant liable for their actions.
Contributory Negligence in a Personal Injury Case
Not only do you need to prove the defendant’s negligence, but you will also need to show that you used reasonable care yourself.
The law recognizes that a court will also look at your own role in the circumstances that led to your injury. The court (and insurance company) will perform a comparative negligence analysis.
Insurance companies will not want to pay for the plaintiff’s injuries if they believe that their own negligence caused them.
The legal theory of contributory negligence could cloud your legal options if there is comparative fault. Once you are accused of contributory negligence, you must show why you do not bear partial fault (or complete fault) for the accident.
Damages in a Personal Injury Case
If you are successfully able to prove negligence in your case, you may be entitled to the following actual damages for your experience and financial loss:
- Medical expenses (medical bills and all other costs of care)
- Lost wages and lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Property damage
- Wrongful death damages (if you are filing the case after a loved one died)
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Helps You
The extensive list of things that could prove your negligence claim are not always things that you can get on your own. You may not even know what you must include with an insurance claim.
Further, these types of evidence can be easily lost if you do not move quickly to obtain them or at least direct the defendant to retain what is in their control in anticipation of litigation.
Recollections fade over time, and an attorney could work to get everything that they can before you file a claim.
Your attorney will also explain your legal options for obtaining financial compensation for your injuries.
Call an Attorney for a Free Case Review
As an injured party, you can recover compensation if someone else was at fault for your injuries. You should consult with a lawyer in a timely manner to see if you can recover damages.
Your attorney has the experience necessary to gather the evidence that could prove negligence, and they could file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf.
Contact the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers online or call us at (800) 424-5757 for your free case evaluation.
Once we form an attorney client relationship, we can provide you with legal advice about your possible claim.