What’s Your Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Claim or Lawsuit?

You can meet the burden of proof with evidence of damages and liability. See why it pays to handle your personal injury claim as if preparing for trial.

When someone else is responsible for your injuries and property damage, you have the right to seek compensation. For most of us, that means filing an insurance claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party.

Settling an injury claim or winning a lawsuit requires more than just telling your side of the story. Before you see any financial compensation, you bear the burden of proving that you were injured by the other party’s negligence.

It’s up to you to show enough evidence to prove your version of events is more believable than the other party’s. The stronger your case, the easier it is to get fair compensation.

Most injury claims are settled out of court, but we’ll show you why you should prepare to meet your burden of proof in a courtroom, if necessary.

The Burden of Proof for Personal Injury Cases

The person who files an injury claim or lawsuit has the “burden of proof,” meaning the obligation to prove their claim.

The person accused of wrongdoing or negligence doesn’t have to prove anything. In or out of court, they are assumed innocent unless you prove otherwise.

Difference Between a Criminal and Civil Lawsuit

A criminal lawsuit is filed by the federal, state, or local government against a person accused of committing a crime. A drunk driver may face a criminal trial for vehicular homicide.  The government must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused person is guilty. Criminal lawsuits have much higher evidence burdens than civil lawsuits.

A civil lawsuit might involve a party who broke the law, like a drunk driver who ran a red light and caused a crash, but the purpose of the civil lawsuit is to seek compensation for your damages from the at-fault party.

The standard of proof, also called the weight of evidence, is different for criminal and civil cases.

Proof in Criminal Cases – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Criminal cases have the biggest burden of proof. In a criminal case, the government claims the defendant broke the law. The government must convince a criminal court jury that the accused person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“[Beyond a reasonable doubt] means that the prosecution must convince the jury that there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented at trial. In other words, the jury must be virtually certain of the defendant’s guilt in order to render a guilty verdict.”

Proof in Civil Cases – Preponderance of Evidence

Claims filed by an injured person that end up in court are civil actions, not criminal. Civil plaintiffs have a lower burden of proof and must only show a “preponderance of the evidence.”

The defendant in a civil lawsuit may offer their own evidence as an affirmative defense, meaning reasons why you shouldn’t win your case.

A preponderance of the evidence doesn’t always mean you have more evidence than the other side. It can also mean you have more convincing evidence than the defendant.

Similarly, if you file a claim with the at-fault person’s insurance company, you’ll need a preponderance of evidence to convince the claims adjuster your claim is valid.

Establishing Liability and Damages

Claimants bear the burden of convincing the adjuster their insured was negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to do what any reasonable person would do in that situation. The negligent party is liable, meaning responsible, for your damages.

There are four elements of negligence needed to move your claim forward. The four elements are like the four wheels on a car. You won’t get far if you’re missing a wheel.

The Essential Four Elements of Negligence:

  1. Duty of Care: The at-fault party had a duty of care to avoid causing you harm. For example, a driver has a duty to drive safely and avoid car accidents.
  2. Breach of Duty: The at-fault party breached their duty by doing something wrong or failing to do what any reasonable person would do in the same circumstances. A driver breaches their duty by texting while driving, or by running a red light.
  3. Causation: The at-fault party’s breach of duty is the direct cause of your injuries. If the driver hadn’t run the red light and slammed into your car, you wouldn’t have been injured.
  4. Damages: You have confirmed injuries, supported by medical bills and records, and other proof of losses.

Negligence is Key to Proving Liability

Negligence and liability go hand-in-hand, whether you’re in court or dealing directly with the insurance company. Establishing liability means the other person is obligated to pay for your monetary losses and emotional distress.

If the insurance company says you share some of the liability, you’ll need to know if your state has contributory or comparative negligence laws that might hurt your claim.

Depending on your location and the circumstances of your injury, you may be able to establish liability without proving negligence, for example:

  • In some states, a homeowner is “strictly liable” for dog bite injuries, even if the owner wasn’t negligent.
  • A third party may have “vicarious liability” for your injuries, like the company that employed a truck driver who rear-ended your car.

Proving the Scope of Your Damages

You will also need evidence that you suffered real and measurable damages. Without measurable damages, you have no injury claim.

Damages in a personal injury lawsuit include:

  • Medical bills
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Personal injury settlement calculations are based largely on economic damages, with an additional amount added to account for the claimant’s pain and suffering.

Prepare Injury Claims “As If” For Trial

Most injury claims are settled out of court by showing the adjuster proof of their insured’s negligence and evidence of the victim’s injuries. The same type of evidence gathered for an insurance claim is necessary to win a lawsuit.

In the event your injury claim can’t be settled, the next step is filing a lawsuit. If you get to this point, you should already have the proof needed to convince a judge or jury.

Never take for granted you’ll settle with the insurance company. Throughout negotiations, always act as if you will end up in a trial.

Preparing “as if” will not only help you if a trial becomes necessary, but will also give you an advantage during settlement negotiations. The more effort you put into gathering strong evidence, the better your negotiating position, and the more likely you’ll get a fair settlement without the need for litigation.

Gather Evidence to Prove Your Injury Case

You can begin gathering important evidence as soon as you’re injured:

  • Photographs and videos taken at the scene can be compelling evidence of the other person’s negligence. As they say, pictures don’t lie.
  • Identifying who saw how you were injured is very important. Statements from independent witnesses can be critical to the success of your case.
  • Later on, you can order a copy of the police report and request copies of all your medical records and bills.
  • Keep an injury diary to document your daily pain levels, emotional distress, and how the accident affected your quality of life.

Organize all evidence and paperwork related to your injury, even if the adjuster didn’t ask for it or you decided it wasn’t important enough to submit to the insurance company.

Using Discovery to Prove Injuries and Liability

For lawsuits filed in higher courts, you’ll have to participate in the discovery process. The discovery phase of litigation is when opponents in a lawsuit get information from each other. If you don’t already have one, this would be a good time to retain a personal injury lawyer.

Your attorney can use interrogatories, requests for admission, and subpoenas to get specific information and evidence for your case that you can’t get on your own.

Key evidence your attorney will pursue includes:

  • Insurance policy limits
  • Proof of other sources of insurance money
  • Phone records from the at-fault party
  • Surveillance films from businesses
  • Asset checks
  • Driving and arrest records

What it Takes to Prepare for Trial

When your lawsuit is in a higher court, you’ll need the help of a personal injury attorney, also called a trial lawyer, to ensure the best outcome.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much evidence a judge or jury will need to rule in your favor. That’s why attorneys take nothing for granted.

Attorneys know if they don’t get in every piece of favorable evidence, there’s a chance the court will decide they haven’t met their burden of proof. An attorney’s approach is a full-on, more-is-better form of evidence production.

At the same time, attorneys make sure each piece of evidence serves some purpose. If not, even if it’s colorful or exciting, it’s just not worth entering. An attorney only wants to present evidence if it helps build your case.

Injury attorneys spend many hours preparing for trial. They study the strengths and weaknesses of a case. Through discovery, they learn what kind of evidence the defense will offer.

Skilled attorneys prepare to eliminate or refute evidence that may interfere with your case and strengthen the favorable evidence that will build it.

Your trial lawyer knows how to present evidence and witness testimony in a clear and convincing way. They can prove to a jury exactly why your injury lawsuit is justified.

Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation to the injured party. If you need help proving your injury claim, find out what a good attorney can do for you.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>