Personal injury cases use many different types of evidence, and some are considered more reliable than others. One of the biggest divides is the difference between direct evidence and indirect or “circumstantial” evidence:
- Direct evidence includes firsthand, eyewitness observation of what happened. For example, when someone saw the accident happen and can describe it, that’s direct evidence. Video records of an accident also count as direct evidence, if they clearly show everything that happened.
- Circumstantial evidence is anything that suggests what happened, without directly showing it.
Circumstantial evidence is allowed in court and is often extremely useful. However, it doesn’t prove anything on its own. It requires the jury to make a logical inference, or draw their own conclusion about what happened. The jury may or may not interpret circumstantial evidence the same way you do.
What is an example of circumstantial evidence in a personal injury case?
Let’s say you are hit by a car that flees the scene in a classic hit and run case. Before the car fled you were able to write down its license plate number, and the police find the car and its owner. However, the driver of the car says they were never at the accident scene. The accident occurred late at night on a deserted road so there were no witnesses to what happened—you have no direct evidence.
You may still have circumstantial evidence. For example, the driver’s car may show damage from where they hit you. This suggests they were in an accident lately, but it doesn’t prove it. They may claim the damage was from something else, like hitting a deer.
Similarly, the damage to their car might have streaks of paint on it. If the color of the streaks matches the color of your own car, this also suggests they really did hit you. The driver’s story about hitting a deer becomes harder to believe.
If you have a good lawyer, you could even subpoena (request) cell phone records from the driver in question. If their GPS shows they were at the scene of the crime, this makes it very obvious that they’re lying about what happened. Any reasonable person would conclude that they really did hit your car.
None of these pieces of circumstantial evidence, on their own, proves what happened. But taken together they paint a picture. Unless the driver has very good explanations for every piece of evidence, a jury would likely find them to be at fault for your accident and award you a financial recovery.
How strong is circumstantial evidence in a personal injury case?
It can be very strong. Cases are won and lost based on circumstantial evidence every day, including car accident cases, nursing home abuse cases and slip and fall accidents. In general, a personal injury lawyer would always prefer to have a witness who saw everything that happened, but that just isn’t always possible. It’s often circumstantial evidence that saves the day and convinces the jury of exactly what happened.
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