The term “burden of proof” is heard most often in criminal cases. But, the burden of proof actually applies in every type of case, even traditional car accident, slip and fall case, or other personal injury claims.
The burden of proof sets out who must prove the elements of a claim to win a case at trial. In almost all cases, the plaintiff (such as the victim in a car accident) must prove these elements to win their case—which means the burden remains on you to show that you should get money after your accident. The defense will try to undermine your argument by putting holes in your evidence or testimony.
It also sets out how much proof you need to win a case, or how “definite” the evidence must be.
Are there different levels of proof?
Yes! The highest level of proof applies in criminal cases, but there are various levels in civil cases as well.
- “Beyond a reasonable doubt”: This standard applies in criminal cases. You want to be next to positive that the person charged actually committed the crime at issue because of the seriousness of the consequences of convicting an innocent person. This high standard never applies to civil cases.
- “Preponderance of the evidence”: In most civil cases, this type of standard will apply to the burden of proof. This level only requires that you prove that it was more likely than not that the plaintiff met all of the required elements of the case. This standard means that the jury is 51% sure that the plaintiff showed all of the facts of the case.
- “Clear and convincing evidence”: There are some cases where a higher standard of proof will apply. This higher standard is somewhere in between the other two standards—it’s unclear exactly where this particular burden falls.
Regardless of what standard applies, the ultimate burden always rests with the plaintiff. But, in some cases, the burden may shift back and forth between the two parties. For example, if the defendant is raising certain types of defenses, the defendant will have the burden of proof on that particular defense. Even where there is this shift, however, the plaintiff still has the heavier burden.
What must a plaintiff prove in a personal injury case?
Every personal injury case has several “elements” or parts. You must prove portion using the burden of proof that applies to your situation—usually preponderance of the evidence. You must show:
- The other person or entity involved in the incident must have had some responsibility to you. In a car accident case, for example, every driver owes a duty to others to drive in a way that is not a threat to others’ safety.
- The at-fault person must have breached their duty to you to have a valid legal claim. Imagine that you were hit in an intersection because the other driver ran through a red light. The other driver had a duty to follow traffic signals, and they breached that duty when they ran through the red light. Violations of the law or rules of the road are some of the most common reasons that a driver breaches their duty to you to drive safely.
- The violation of the other person’s duty must have caused you some damages. You cannot have a case without a connection between the losses you experienced and the breached duty. It’s not enough to have damage—you also have to show that your injuries or damage were directly or indirectly caused by the at-fault person.
- You must have also suffered some damages to have a legal claim. That could be physical or mental injuries, or it could be economic damages like loss of income or a damaged vehicle.
Because it’s the plaintiff’s burden to show all of the elements of their claim, you need an attorney to help you present the right kind of evidence and information to the jury or judge. Your word is often not enough in a personal injury case to meet your burden of proof. You need hard evidence—and John Foy & Associates can help you gather it. Fill out the form to your right or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.