Personal Injury Lawyer
In order to prevail in a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must meet the burden of proof on every element of each of their claims. This requires that they (or their attorneys) convince the judge or jury of their claims beyond a certain level of doubt. If the plaintiff does not meet the burden of proof, the defendant will not be held liable and the plaintiff will lose their case.
The burden of proof in personal injury cases is a preponderance of the evidence. Proving a claim by a preponderance of the evidence means that the plaintiff has convinced the judge or jury that it is more likely than not that their version of events is what actually occurred. This being said, it is helpful to have an experienced personal injury lawyer to help in proving a claim. As our friends a Eglet Adams explain, another way to think of this is that there is a 51% chance that what the plaintiff is alleging is true.
Proving Every Element of a Claim
The plaintiff cannot just prove their case as a whole by a preponderance of the evidence, but rather, must meet this burden for each element of a claim. For instance, if the plaintiff is suing the defendant for negligence, he or she must prove each element of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. So, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant breached that duty by a preponderance of the evidence, that they suffered an injury by a preponderance of the evidence, and that the defendant’s breach caused their injuries by a preponderance of the evidence.
The judge or jury will have the final say as to whether the plaintiff has met the burden of proof. If the plaintiff fails to meet the burden of proof on even one element of their claim, they will lose their case.
The Defendant’s Burden of Proof
The defendant is not required to prove that their version of events is true or convince the jury of an alternative version of events than the version the plaintiff is alleging. All that is necessary for the defendant to prevail is for the judge or jury to believe that the chances that the plaintiff’s version of the facts is false is 50% or higher.
However, there is one exception to this rule. In certain instances, the burden of proof will also apply to the defendant. The burden of proof shifts to the defendant if the defendant raises an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense occurs if, regardless of whether the plaintiff successfully proves each element of their claim, the defendant proves additional facts that defeat the plaintiff’s claims. A defendant must prove an affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
An example of an affirmative defense is the doctrine of assumption of the risk, whereby the plaintiff assumes the risk of injury by participating in an event, such as a sporting game. Even if the plaintiff proves each element of their claim against the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence, the plaintiff will still lose the case if the defendant can successfully prove the affirmative defense of assumption of the risk.