Burden of Proof

You cannot win a personal injury claim without evidence. It is generally the responsibility of the plaintiff (the person asserting the claim in the first place) to provide evidence in support of their claim. In other words, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof—most of the time.

The Various Standards for the Burden of Proof

The Various Standards for the Burden of Proof

There is no single “burden of proof” that applies to all cases. There is more than one standard. Each standard defines the weight of the evidence that the plaintiff must present to win their claim.

In some cases, most notably affirmative defenses, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant (see below for details).

“Preponderance of the Evidence”

The “preponderance of the evidence” standard applies to most personal injury claims for monetary damages. To meet this standard, you must prove by admissible evidence that your version of events is more likely than not to be true. 

It’s not just that your evidence outweighs the defendant’s evidence. You must convince the court that your assertion of liability is at least 51% likely to be valid.

“Clear and Convincing Evidence”

The “clear and convincing evidence” standard applies when you assert that the defendant’s behavior is so outrageous that the court should impose punitive damages in addition to economic and non-economic damages.

Your evidence must be sufficient to produce a firm conviction that the defendant’s conduct was outrageous enough to warrant the imposition of punitive damages. 

“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”

The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is the standard that most people know about, presumably due to the popularity of police dramas. It is the strictest of all standards to meet. To meet it, you must provide such convincing evidence that no reasonable person can doubt your claim.

The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applies mainly to criminal prosecutions. It does not apply to personal injury claims. 

Affirmative Defenses: When the Defendant Bears the Burden of Proof

Affirmative defenses generally shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. The defendant must assert and prove their own defense.

The essence of an affirmative defense is that the defendant is saying, “Even if all of the facts that the plaintiff asserts are true, I am still not liable because of my affirmative defense.” Following is a list of common affirmative defenses:

  • The statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit has already passed.
  • Comparative negligence. The plaintiff was partly at fault for the accident. This is only a partial defense in Arizona and New Mexico, and it won’t work at all if the defendant acted intentionally.
  • Assumption of risk. The plaintiff signed an effective waiver of liability, for example.
  • Self-defense or defense of others. This defense works if the plaintiff is suing the defendant for violent behavior such as battery.
  • Act of God. The accident was nobody’s fault. This might work, for instance, if an unexpected hailstorm caused a car accident.
  • Government immunity. This defense applies in some cases where the defendant was acting in their capacity as a government official.

The defendant normally has the burden of proving their affirmative defense by the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

Elements of a Negligence Claim

Negligence is the most common (but not the only) form of a personal injury claim. Like other claims, a negligence claim consists of several elements, each of which you must prove to win.

You must prove each element by the applicable burden of proof standard. If you seek to prove a negligence claim, for example, you must prove each of the following four elements by the “preponderance of the evidence” standard:

  • Duty of care: The duty to drive safely, for example, or your doctor’s duty to order lab tests when you complain of certain symptoms.
  • Breach of duty: The at-fault party acted inconsistently with their duty of care. It might be something the at-fault party did or something they didn’t do.
  • Damages: This usually means some form of bodily injury. As long as there is, you can recover compensation for psychological harm as well.
  • Causation: The at-fault party’s breach of duty was the foreseeable cause of the damages you suffered.

If you fail to prove even one of the foregoing elements of a negligence claim, you will lose your case. Keep in mind that there are other types of personal injury claims (such as product liability) that apply elements of liability that differ from the ones listed above. 

A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Meet the Burden of Proof

An experienced personal injury lawyer should know the state’s evidence code by heart. They should know about the hearsay rule, for example, and they should be able to recite all of the exceptions to it. 

They should know about the exclusion of evidence of subsequent remedial measures, as well as many more evidentiary restrictions. In this way, they can assemble admissible evidence that will help you meet your burden of proof.

For more information, contact a Phoenix injury lawyer at Curiel & Runion Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation today. You can reach us at (602) 595-5559.