What is the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Claim?

May 5, 2022
What is the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Claim?

Understanding the Burden of Proof Standards in Personal Injury Lawsuits

Anyone who has filed a personal injury claim will tell you that the process is rarely straightforward or efficient. Throw in an intimidating insurance company and unfamiliar terminology, and the odds of recovering the cost of hospital bills or car repairs may seem out of reach. However, if you go into court with a basic understanding of the legal jargon you may encounter, you'll have a much better idea of what the expectations for your case should be. Personal injury lawsuits live or die by a lawyer's ability to fulfill the burden of proof, so understanding the implications of this linchpin will help set you up for success.

What is the Burden of Proof?

The burden of proof is first and foremost a responsibility; essentially, it is the minimum standard that a party seeking to prove a fact in court must satisfy to have that fact legally established.  It is based on the dual concepts of the burden of persuasion and the burden of production, which require a party to persuade the jury of the credibility of the facts composing their narrative and produce evidence to convince them of their claim. In a personal injury case, the party that has the burden of proof is in charge of convincing the judge or jury that the other party should be considered responsible for the damages suffered by the plaintiff and provide appropriate compensation. 

Who Has the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case?

Personal injury lawsuits are tried in a civil court. Unlike in criminal trials, the state does not fill the role of the plaintiff. Instead, the individual or group bringing the lawsuit steps into that role. Simply put, the person or party who experienced harm at the hands of another is called the plaintiff. The person or party accused of perpetrating the harm is known as the defendant. Please note that in personal injury cases, the defendant may not be the person who caused your accident, but rather their insurance company- or in the event of a bad faith case, it might be your own.  To level the playing field a bit, there are different guidelines based on the specific kind of law to accommodate who fills the role of the accuser and who suffers the consequences if they are found to be accountable. It's a fair way to acknowledge that the government has virtually unlimited resources as the prosecutor, and the consequences are more severe for criminal charges, so it should be more difficult for them to satisfy the burden of proof.

Standards for Burden of Proof Vary Based on the Area of Law 

When a company or individual inflicts harm against people or property because of negligence, this can fall into the category of tort law. The distinction between tort law and criminal law is whether or not a transgression has been committed against an individual or against society as a whole, respectively. The type of case will determine the criteria for the burden of proof, with criminal law demanding a higher standard.

What are the Burden of Proof Requirements in Civil Cases Compared to Criminal Cases

The distinction between the measures for the burden of proof amounts to this: in criminal law, the jury needs to be overwhelmingly confident that the accused party is responsible for the injury. In most tort law cases, the jury just needs to believe it's more likely than not that the accused party is answerable for the injury. In a criminal case, the burden of proof standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt”; the prosecution must convince the jury that there is no reasonable alternative explanation based on the evidence.  In a civil case, the accuser only has to demonstrate that a “preponderance of evidence” suggests they should be held liable. In layman's terms, that's a threshold of 51% certainty to find the defendant liable.

Types of Potential Punishment Explain Differences in Burden of Proof Standards 

Should the burden of proof be fulfilled, the penalties -in the form of damages- are considered less disruptive than curtailing someone's freedom by sentencing them to jail or prison, hence the lower standard for conviction. In rare cases, the plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages, which are those intended to punish the defendant; this may happen in cases of gross negligence or when the general and special damages are deemed inadequate for the magnitude of the offense.

Satisfying the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case

In a personal injury claim, your lawyer will conduct an investigation, gather evidence, and attempt to demonstrate the links in the chain of causation. After establishing that the defendant had a duty of care to the injured party, they will then attempt to prove that the neglect or breach of this obligation created a hazard.  Then, the hazard must be directly linked to the accident. Finally, your lawyer must convince the judge and jury that the accident resulted in damages that deserve compensation in the form of general or special damages. While this may sound complicated, the good news is that the jury only has to be convinced that it's more likely than not that the defendant violated their commitment to the plaintiff. This lower standard of proof gives individual claims a fighting chance. 

How Can You Attain the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case?

The burden of proof can be fulfilled with a variety of evidence. It may look like pictures taken at the scene of the accident, mechanic's reports, doctors' or therapists' notes, receipts from repairs, psychological evaluations, or security camera footage. For example, if you've been in a car accident involving a distracted driver, you may have experienced the frustrating process of disputing whether or not they were engaged in reckless behavior. It's on you to prove to everyone else that they were texting while driving, which caused them to be distracted and run the red light, t-boning your car.  It may be frustrating to go to the trouble of collecting evidence when you have clearly been wronged, but this process protects everyone from false accusations. Without the proof of the incident, such as car damage, photos from a red light camera, or eye-witness testimony, and proof of injury, like medical bills, lost wages, or a receipt from a mechanic, it would just be your word against theirs. 

Why Does Burden of Proof Matter?

Imagine if the situation were reversed, and another driver was accusing you of texting while driving and subsequently causing a car crash. Now they're trying to claim that you owe them for medical expenses and damage to their vehicle.  However, you weren't even in the state of Florida at the time of the crash, nor do you own the cherry red SUV they claim hit them. The plaintiff doesn't have photographic evidence, you have receipts and witnesses proving you weren't there at the time of the crash, and the damage to their car looks like it was inflicted with a baseball bat, rather than in a collision.  There's no way that it was you, and they would not be able to fulfill their burden of proof and collect damages. Requiring the burden of proof to rest on the accuser, or the plaintiff, protects you from being taken advantage of.

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your Personal Injury Claim

If you're taking on a large insurance company or a business with deep pockets, you need an experienced lawyer in your corner.  A good personal injury lawyer can level the playing field and give your case the chance for success it needs in order to get you compensation for damages you suffered. Dolman Law Group has been providing award-winning legal representation to injured people across Florida for over a decade now and has built up skills and experience that have made us one of the top personal injury firms in the state. The lawyers of Dolman Law Group are prepared to give your case the care and attention it deserves so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries and sorting out your personal affairs. Give us a call any time at (833) 55-CRASH for auto accidents, or (727) 451-6900 for other claims. You can also send us an email on our contact us page. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 727-451-6900  

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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