When a plaintiff brings an injury claim against a defendant, the plaintiff must meet a “burden of proof” in order to succeed. To meet this burden is to convince the judge or jury that the defendant should be held responsible for causing the injuries at issue, and a result be ordered to pay damages in the form of financial compensation to the plaintiff.
A personal injury claim is a “tort” claim and is brought in the civil, rather than criminal, justice system. Each justice system has its own burden of proof. In the personal injury context with the civil justice system, the burden of proof is a “preponderance of evidence.” This post explores the meaning of a “preponderance of evidence,” and the ways in which the burden may be met.
A Burden of Proof Is An Evidentiary Threshold
One cannot convince a judge or jury with argumentation alone. Evidence must be presented; it is ultimately what convinces a judge or jury to hold a defendant responsible for injuries caused. Evidence commonly includes the testimony of witnesses to the event causing injuries, police reports, photographs and video of the accident scene, and expert testimony by medical professionals and forensic scientists.
In the personal injury context, the burden of proof is a “preponderance of evidence.” In plain language, this standard means “more likely than not.” Another way to think of the standard is in terms of a percentage: 51%. If a plaintiff can prove that it is 51% likely that a defendant is responsible for the injuries at issue, there exists a basis for an award of damages.
The “preponderance of evidence” standard is less than two other familiar standards – “clear and convincing evidence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Each standard, however, has something in common; in application, a burden of proof must be applied to each element in a claim.
A common claim, especially in the personal injury context, is negligence. Negligence itself is actually made up of 4 elements: 1) duty, 2) breach, 3) causation, 4) damages. Take, for example, a car accident. In a car accident, the duty in question would be the duty of safe driving in accordance with the laws of traffic. The second element, breach, is a violation of the duty of safe driving. This might occur by driving too fast or while under the influence of alcohol. Causation, the third element, is the most complex. It links the breach of a duty owed to damages suffered by the plaintiff. It must specifically be shown that the defendant’s breach (i.e. speeding) caused the accident. If there was another cause of the accident, then the breach would be irrelevant. In the personal injury context, damages commonly include physical injuries, property damages, medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. Each element must be proven by a “preponderance of evidence.”
The Plaintiff’s Claim Is A Version Of Events That The Defendant Will Challenge
In court, the plaintiff and defendant do not provide separate accounts of the events in question at the outset. While the plaintiff must convince a judge or jury of a version of events that proves each element of a valid legal claim (e.g. negligence) by a “preponderance of evidence,” the defendant’s task is only to prevent the plaintiff from meeting its burden of proof. To return to the example of negligence, if the defendant can cause a judge or jury to believe that it is only 49% likely that one element (e.g. causation) can be satisfied, then the plaintiff will fail in meeting the burden the proof. In addition, in many cases only one or two elements may be disputed by the parties. The defendant and plaintiff often agree that a car driver owed a duty and that the plaintiff suffered damages, and so the case would only revolve around showing that a “breach” actually “caused” those damages.
How To Meet The Burden Of Proof In Your Personal Injury Claim
If you have been injured as the result of the negligent, reckless, or intentionally wrongful conduct of another, it is imperative that you retain the services of a skilled an experienced personal injury attorney. The defendant you bring a claim against will almost certainly have legal representation, and that representative will make every effort to challenge your ability to meet the burden of proof.
While a chain of events causing injuries may appear black and white to you, the actual legal elements that must each be proven in court can be complex. This is especially the case with the element of causation in a negligence claim. Causation must be proven on two levels – actual and proximate. In the car accident context, for example, this can be difficult because of the number of variables at play in the flow of traffic in even a brief window of time.
A skilled attorney will be well versed in establishing causation, and working to meet the burden of proof for every element of your claim. When the compensation you need and deserve in the wake of an accident causing injuries is at stake, there is no room for taking chances. Reach out to a skilled personal injury attorney to handle your legal claim today.