If you have suffered damages because of another person's negligent actions or inactions, you have a right to file a personal injury lawsuit. The only way you can win a claim and obtain compensation is to build a strong case that proves the accused’s actions caused your losses. It is crucial to understand the burden of proof in personal injury cases as a plaintiff.

While it is not mandatory to seek legal representation, having an attorney can increase your odds of receiving fair compensation. The expert will help you build a case that passes the “preponderance of the evidence” test. Generally, you must make the judge or jury believe that it is more likely than not that the accused’s actions resulted in the damages you suffered.

The Burden of Proof Standards in Personal Injury Cases

In civil cases like personal injury claims, the law sets a burden of proof standard referred to as the “preponderance of the evidence.” This evidentiary threshold requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant is “more likely than not” to have caused their injury.

The Burden Of Proof for Economic and Noneconomic Damages

Your attorney will have to table arguments and evidence that shows there is a more than 50% likelihood that your side of the story is true and the defendant caused your losses. As the plaintiff in a personal injury case, you can only receive compensation if they can convince the judge or jury of a defendant’s guilt by at least 51%

Your attorney must prove four essential elements by a preponderance of the evidence. These elements include:

The key elements of negligence are:

  • Duty of care — The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. Duty of care refers to the responsibility to act in a specific manner to avoid foreseeable harm to other people.
  • Breach of duty — You also need to establish that the defendant’s actions or inactions caused a breach in their duty of care and caused your injuries.
  • Cause — Because the accused breached their duty of care, you suffered damages. In short, your damages are consequences of the defendant’s actions or inactions.
  • Damages — You suffered economic and non-economic damages because of the events triggered by the defendant’s breach of duty.

Compared to the standard of proof in criminal cases (beyond a reasonable doubt), proving that a defendant is “more likely than not “to have caused your damages is easier. This burden of proof is also lower than the “clear and convincing standard” that typically applies in administrative cases like fraud, the probate of wills, or restraining orders.

The Burden of Proof for Punitive Damages

In some instances, the plaintiff does not suffer any significant economic damages. This means they also do not receive substantial compensation for noneconomic damages, and the only substantial money they can receive is from punitive damages.

To qualify for punitive damages, you must prove that your side of the story is true by “clear and convincing” evidence. For instance, your attorney will need to prove to the court that a defendant was highly reckless and had no regard for human life. If you seek compensation following a car accident, you can also obtain a punitive damage award if you can prove that the at-fault party was drunk and heavily impaired.

The “by clear and convincing evidence” standard is higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. It takes having a skilled and highly experienced personal injury attorney to ensure you receive maximum compensation for the damages suffered.

Understanding Who Bears the Burden Of Proof in Personal Injury Cases

So, who needs to prove it is “more likely than not” a defendant caused a plaintiff's injury?

In personal injury cases, this burden falls on the plaintiff. Meeting this standard of proof can be challenging. Evidence alone will often not be substantial enough to convince the judge or jury that a plaintiff’s side of the story is true by at least 51%.

Note that the accused does not need to provide an alternative story of what happened and does not need to prove that the plaintiff’s story is true. Furthermore, the defendant is free to table evidence that downplays or waters down a plaintiff’s version of the events that caused their damages. Any contradictory evidence will raise doubt in the juror’s minds on whether it is more likely than not that the plaintiff’s story is true.

Is It Possible To Shift The Burden Of Proof To The Defendant?

The burden of proof can shift to the defendant if they opt to use an affirmative defense. Affirmative defenses are sets of facts that free a defendant of any legal consequences if they can prove that their version of the story is true. The accused in a personal injury lawsuit can assert an affirmative defense by establishing any of the following:

Superseding Cause

Depending on the nature of a case, the defendant can claim that another event that happened after their negligent actions caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The burden of proof shifts to the defendant, who must prove the following elements:

  • A third party’s conduct happened after the defendant’s conduct
  • Any reasonable person under similar circumstances would not have responded using the third party’s conduct
  • The damages suffered by the plaintiff because of the third party’s conduct are different from the damages reasonably expected to stem from the defendant’s conduct

Comparative Fault

Also, the defendant bears the burden of proof if they claim the damages suffered by a plaintiff were not solely their fault. The accused must provide evidence that shows that the conduct of another third party was a prime factor leading to an incident.

If the defendant establishes comparative fault successfully, the judge or jury must assign each party a percentage of fault. This means that the plaintiff will not receive 100% compensation. For instance, if the defendant bears 50% fault for an accident that caused damages amounting to $10,000, the plaintiff will only receive $5,000 compensation.

Primary Assumption of Risk

The primary assumption of risk comes into play if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff suffered damages while engaging in an activity they knew was potentially dangerous. By voluntarily and knowingly participating in the action, they relieved the defendant of their duty of care.

In any personal injury case, the defendant is likely to have a strong defense team willing to do whatever it takes to table mitigating factors. This makes it necessary for plaintiffs to invest in reliable legal counsel.

How to Meet the Burden Of Proof When Filing a Personal Injury Claim

Meeting the evidentiary standards in a civil lawsuit can be complicated. Even though the burden of proof is lower, plaintiffs are expected to encounter challenges that can impact their odds of convincing the court of their story by at least 51%. Remember that the at-fault party has the liberty to dispute what a plaintiff claims happened and does not have to prove anything.

That said, merely telling your account of an event that caused your injuries is not enough. You also need to prove the elements of a personal injury lawsuit by a preponderance of the evidence. A reliable personal injury attorney can help you build a strong case that has the highest likelihood of proving that the at-fault party more likely than not caused your injuries.

Here is what you need to meet the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit:

Documentation That Supports Your Claim

Documents supporting your claims are an integral part of any personal injury case. You require documentation that proves you suffered damages. Documents also come in handy when establishing the value of damages suffered and the befitting amount you should receive in compensation.

Here is what you require:

  • Medical records showing your diagnosis and recommended treatment plan
  • Medical bills that show the amount of money needed to make you whole again
  • Receipts showing the cost of repairs or replacement of damaged property
  • Proof of lost wages
  • Other receipts showing the cost of medication or transport to and from the hospital

Essentially, documents strengthen your claim by proving the damages you suffered. They also help paint a picture of the non-economic damages like pain and suffering or loss of life enjoyment. If you have also sustained damages like lost earning capacity, do not forget to attach documents showing your earnings history and career path. Your attorney can also bring in a career expert to help the court understand your potential future earnings if not for your injuries.

Physical Evidence From the Accident Scene

It is always crucial to gather evidence from the accident scene to support your personal injury claim. For instance, if you suffer from a slip and fall on another person’s property, you must take photos or videos of the conditions or aspects you believe contributed to the accident.

Make sure you take clear pictures from different angles so that these images help you to tell a compelling story. Depending on the location of an accident, you could even find other forms of evidence like surveillance videos of how an incident unfolded.

Most importantly, take photos of your injuries right after an accident. You also want to take pictures that give updates about your healing process.

You must not underestimate the need to gather evidence from the accident scene as soon as possible. Any delays can harm your case, especially if the at-fault party tampers with the scene and attempts to cover up their fault. Be sure to gather evidence showing the destruction of evidence by the accused. This can make the jurors believe that the spoilt evidence would have been in your favor.

Written Material

It is beneficial to write down the details of an accident as soon as possible. While this form of evidence is likely not to hold much water in court, it will help you keep all the details fresh in your mind. Also, these details will come in handy as your attorney builds your case.

Once you begin treatment, make sure you journal your injuries. Document your treatment and care plan, healing progress, and pain levels. It is also necessary to record your appointments and all the expenses incurred along the way. Do not be tempted to exaggerate anything and remain as truthful as possible in your journals.

Witness Testimonies

It is best to lock witnesses into their stories as soon as possible. Again, memories fade away over time, and it is beneficial to have witness accounts on record just to be on the safe side. The best system to use when gathering witness statements depends on the circumstances around a case.

Sometimes, there are witnesses ready to cooperate and give their contact details along with a written narrative of what happened. Any help you can gather from other people who saw what transpired can help to strengthen your case and give your side of the story more credibility.

The justice system in both criminal and civil court highly depends on evidence. When filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is essential to start building your case as soon as possible to ensure you preserve as much “hard” evidence as you can. Remember that it takes a lot of time and effort for any skilled personal injury attorney to put a case together and ensure you have maximum chances of convincing the court of your truth by a preponderance of the evidence.

If you want to make a full recovery, it is best not to lose time. Note that there is also a clock on when you qualify to file your claim. In California, the statute of limitations dictates that plaintiffs can only file their claims not more than two years following an accident or two years after discovering their injuries.

Common Challenges to Expect When Meeting the Burden Of Proof

When harmed in an accident, you must prove that the at-fault party is responsible for your damages by a preponderance of the evidence. You must prepare to overcome specific challenges to present a convincing story and receive a compensation reward.

Even with tangible evidence and witness testimonies, you can expect the following challenges when associated with meeting the burden of proof:

Time Needed To Develop a Strong Case

Developing a solid personal injury case is tedious and time-consuming. It takes a while to piece up evidence to tell the story on behalf of a plaintiff. One of the main aspects that can hinder building a solid case is the piling up of medical bills, lost wages, and debts as you nurse your injuries. It can be a little tempting to settle too quickly and attend to your immediate needs.

The downside to accepting the first settlement you can receive is that you will likely receive less than you truly deserve. For instance, it could be that you will need continuing treatment or a more extended sick leave from work. Practicing patience allows you to truly appreciate the extent of damages suffered and decide on the most befitting settlement amount.

Also, it is necessary to enlist an attorney as soon as possible. The specialist needs time to go over your damages records and even attempt negotiations with the at-fault party or their insurance adjuster. If the settlement offered is a deal-breaker, your attorney needs time to prepare a solid case for a trial.

Compiling Convincing Evidence

Meeting the evidentiary standards of a personal injury lawsuit requires more than just presenting evidence. It is also necessary to present your case in a manner that convinces the court of your damages, pain, and suffering. Apart from providing documentation for your treatment and lost wages, it is also necessary to show the court that you have been following all treatment recommendations to the latter.

Some of the forms of evidence an attorney can use to create a solid case and meet the burden of proof include:

  • Pictures of the accident scene and witness testimonies
  • Forensic reports that analyze the degree of damage you have suffered
  • Expert testimonies to help reconstruct what happened

Furthermore, do not forget that much can go against you, even with tangible evidence to prove your case. It is best to keep off social media platforms and avoid diverting information that can harm your case. For instance, a picture of you throwing a party days after an injury only waters down your claims of undergoing devastating pain, suffering, or lack of life enjoyment.

Proving Negligence

The negligence of the at-fault party is a legal theory you must prove to hold a person or company accountable for its role in causing your injuries. You will need to prove that if it were not for the careless or reckless actions of the defendant, you would be safe from harm.

Again, your attorney needs time to assess the situation, evaluate the evidence and come up with a brilliant way of strongly convincing the court that the at-fault party acted negligently at the time of an incident.

For instance, the expert can establish the duty of care based on your relationship with the defendant. If you are filing a medical malpractice claim, your doctor owes you a legal duty of care to provide competent medical care. However, the practitioner failed to act as any “reasonably prudent person” would under the same circumstances. This implies that their actions or inactions were negligent and caused your damages.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

Before filing a personal injury claim, it is crucial to understand that you can only receive compensation once you meet the burden of proof. At The LA Personal Injury Law Firm, we are well-acquainted with the best methods of ensuring we prove all the elements of a claim and meet the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Call us at 310-935-0089 for personalized legal counsel and a free case evaluation.