You will be surprised that you must prove negligence in a legal theory before you can hold an individual or company responsible because you assume the burden of proof or persuasion. It is unlike criminal cases where the government investigates and prosecutes the case. The burden of proof means you are the person to present evidence before a jury to convince them that the case’s facts are more likely than not to be accurate or there is clear and convincing evidence they are true. When you fail to attain the evidentiary standard, the accused will not be responsible for your harm.
When you fail to convince the jury or judge that the defendant is responsible for the harm suffered, your compensation is at stake. Therefore, you should hire an attorney to represent you in the case and assist you in attaining the persuasion burden necessary to obtain damages. This blog highlights the basics of personal injury torts’ burden of proof to receive the financial damages you need for the injuries.
The Burden of Proof in California Personal Injury Torts Explained
When it comes to injury torts, you, as the claimant, carry the burden of proof. It means you must investigate the facts of the case and present them in court to demonstrate all the case elements showing the accused is liable for your damages. Nevertheless, the problem arises when the accused is responsible for the wrongful act in question. Eventually, you should meet the evidentiary standards set by the court. Your injury attorney comes in at this point to demonstrate that the accused’s negligence is the direct result of your harm. Besides, to ensure the compensation obtained is adequate to cover all your losses, you must present proof of all the damages incurred like:
- Lost Income of earnings
- Doctor bills
- Pain and anguish
You can claim several damages, but they depend on the torts’ circumstances, meaning they are not limited to the few examples listed above.
If your legal counsel can meet this standard or threshold set for injury torts in California, you will be eligible for compensation from the accused. Nonetheless, the hardest part is convincing the jury that the facts presented to prove the defendant’s fault are actual. Each element of the claim must have evidence to back it.
Types of Burden of Proofs
In all personal injury torts in the state, you will have two forms of burdens of proof to establish. One is more likely than not, also called the preponderance of the evidence, and the other is clear and convincing proof. These two standards are different, but it is a lower bar than criminal cases where the court requires facts to be proven beyond reasonable certainty or doubt.
Preponderance of Evidence
In most personal injury torts in California, the court requires you to meet the evidentiary standard of more likely than not or the preponderance of the evidence. In many states, California included, you must prove that your facts or the odds of evidence presented are actually over 51%. Also, it could mean that the odds are 51% or above what you said happened than not.
The evidentiary standard applies in many civil torts, including personal injury cases and claims involving a breach of your civil rights. Let us say today you are in a car crash. When proving negligence, you and three other witnesses give the same story implicating the defendant, but the accused provides a different version of the story. Even though the jury will not believe your account supported by three witnesses 100%, they will find that there is a higher likelihood or probability than not that your story is more accurate than that of the defendant.
Clear and Convincing Evidence
Some civil torts to meet the clear and convincing standard require that you present adequate or effective proof to show there is a high likelihood that what you are saying is true. Generally, this evidentiary standard is required in civil torts where one is seeking punitive on top of the compensatory damages. Therefore, you must demonstrate to the fact-finder that the evidence and testimony you present is highly and essentially more likely to be accurate instead of inaccurate.
The fact-finder will require you to meet this standard when filing civil suits in cases involving fraud, protective orders, conservatorships, withdrawal of life support, and the validation of wills.
Compared to a preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence is a higher evidentiary standard but does not surpass the “beyond reasonable doubt” that applies in criminal cases. It means that in criminal cases, you do not just show that your facts have higher odds of being true than not. You must persuade the jury and make them believe that your story is more accurate than the defendant's.
Some of you could have encountered the term “plaintiff” for the first time in this blog. Plaintiff means that party or individual seeking financial compensation through an injury tort. The burden of persuasion will apply to you as you must demonstrate to the fact-finder that the defendant is more than 51% likely to have caused what happened, leading to your injuries. Your duty is to convince the jury that the version of your discovery, testimony, and assertions is more accurate than that of the accused. Also, you must show that the harm suffered was more likely caused by the defendant and therefore must be held financially accountable.
At-Fault’s Party Perspective
When a claim is filed against a party, they become defendants in the lawsuit. A defendant does not need to give an accurate version of his/her side of the story. Their role in the case is to demonstrate that they are unsure whether your testimony and evidence are true or share their version of events to counter your argument. This creates doubt about the accuracy of your information in the minds of the fact-finders, reducing or eliminating their liability. Because of this, you need to take your time when building a personal injury tort to make the jury believe your facts more than those of the defendant.
Furthermore, even when defendants give a version of their story to the fact-finder, they do not need to make the jury believe their story. All they need for the claim to fail is for the jury not to be convinced 51 percent or more of your story, as the plaintiff, is true or accurate. The jury does not need the conviction that the defendant’s version is authentic. What they do is to present facts to cast doubt in the minds of the jury about your story so that they can no longer believe with a “preponderance of evidence” that you are telling the truth.
An exception to this rule is when the defendant is trying to prove an affirmative defense. The burden shifts when the defendant raises a factual matter as a defense, thus being forced to verify that the fact raised is actual. In a case like this, the defendant must provide evidence to explain to the fact-finder where their conduct should be lawfully disqualified.
An excellent example of an affirmative defense is risk assumption common in cases where you, the plaintiff, sustain injuries in a sport. Even when you manage to prove all the case elements, you will not obtain damages if the defendant tends to convince the jury with a majority of the evidence that you participated in the sport willingly. Besides, your harm stemmed from the typical sports case.
Prima Facie Injury Tort
Recall, the burden of persuasion in injury claims applies to the plaintiff, and they are the ones to demonstrate that the accused should be held accountable for the injuries. You will need to present a “prima facie” claim which means on the face. In other words, you only need to show the court, using evidence that you have good reasons to hold the defendant accountable for your harm. In a case like that, you must show that the defendant acted negligently and prove all the legal elements of negligence discussed in the next section.
Additionally, you must show that you suffered legitimate damages like doctor bills, lost wages, and suffering due to the at-fault individual's negligence.
What You Must Prove
A win in your injury claim will not come quickly. You must prove the following legal elements to increase the possibility of a favorable outcome:
Defendant Owed You a Legal Duty
In California injury law, every individual owes the other a duty of care. The law establishes this duty. For example, a daycare facility has a legal responsibility to care for the children in their hands. The same with a physician must ensure patients receive quality medical care. Motorists have a legal obligation to abide by traffic regulations and operate a motor car safely to lower the risk of vehicle and pedestrian accidents. The duty of legal responsibility is based on the lawsuit’s circumstances.
The Accused Breached This Duty Through Negligence
Negligence is defined as doing something that a rationally prudent individual would not do under the circumstances or failing to do something that a sober individual would do under the circumstances. Therefore, the jury's primary consideration in these cases is what a sober party would undertake in the same situation if they owed a claimant a duty of care.
A defendant will have breached their duty through negligence if they acted or failed to act in a manner an average person would or would not have performed under the circumstances.
The Accused Person’s Conduct Was The Causation Of The Harm You Suffered
The other legal element of the case you must prove is that the duty violation was the direct cause of the harm. The negligence must be the cause of the injuries. Otherwise, you will lose the claim. Also, the fact-finder will consider whether the action that led to the damages could be foreseeable. If an accident or random incident led to the injuries, the defendant would not be responsible.
Lastly, you must show that the injuries sustained after the incident resulted in damages and losses.
Proving these elements is not a simple task because you must gather evidence and testimonies to back each of them. Therefore, you must collect the necessary evidence pivotal in your future claim after being injured. If you witnessed what happened leading to the accident or someone else did, you can rely on the testimony to help the jury understand the scene of the accident. The testimony by accident reconstruction experts and medical witnesses can help further piece together the events that folded leading to the accident.
Also, after the accident, you can record a video or take pictures of the injuries and the accident scene. The accident reconstruction experts working with your attorney will explain how the accident occurred and leave it to the jury to decide who is responsible for your harm. Luckily, today there are many ways of gathering video and photo evidence after sustaining injuries in an accident caused by another person. You can rely on the security cameras in the building or street where the incident happened, dashboard cams, and surveillance videos.
Also, you will need various documents to prove you suffered the losses you are pursuing. Some of the documents you will need include medical records, medical reports, proof of lost wages, and receipts for repairs. Therefore, every document relating to your injuries or the accident must be properly recorded and preserved to ensure you have all the paperwork to back your claim. When intending to claim pain and suffering damages, you must write down the pain you experienced from the injuries every day until you heal. You will meet the evidentiary standard for these damages with such documentation, thus obtaining compensation.
So, every legal aspect of injury claims is critical, and you should explain each of them and how they relate to the case’s facts. Unfortunately, many plaintiffs lack knowledge of the personal injury law making it difficult to claim damages. However, when you bring in an injury attorney in the case, you will have someone with personal injury law knowledge and experience, increasing the chances of meeting the burden of proof.
In most personal injury torts, the burden of persuasion is usually more likely than not, otherwise known as the preponderance of the evidence. Nonetheless, the responsibility changes when claiming punitive damages. These damages are not intended to reimburse or compensate for the losses incurred after an injury. Instead, they plan to punish the defendant and deter others from any conduct that is likely to cause harm to others. When claiming punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, and conscious disregard of your safety.
Courts rarely award these damages because the burden of persuasion is usually clear and convincing evidence. Circumstantial evidence is not likely to hold ground in these cases because you must provide direct and compelling evidence showing the defendant acted maliciously and fraudulently, thus causing your injuries. This evidentiary standard is higher than the preponderance of the evidence because the law only intends to punish the guilty party and set an example to others that wish to act in the same fashion.
Understanding the Burden of Proof, You Must Meet
Without a background in California injury law, you will hardly understand the burden of persuasion you must meet. Therefore, you must do your homework on the specific evidentiary standard for your case.
Depending on your injuries, you can have several claims and basis to seek legal redress from the negligent or at-fault party.
Every legal theory has a distinct burden of persuasion. You need to understand this before you can file a claim and the best way to do this is through consultation with an experienced attorney. A profound injury attorney will thoroughly evaluate your case and advise on the best way to seek damages from those liable. Do not worry about consultation fees when going for a case evaluation because many law firms in this practice understand your financial burden after suffering injuries, providing a free consultation. After a case review, you can decide on the best course of action.
The Bottom Line of Burden of Persuasion in Injury Torts
Compared to the burden of persuasion or proof in criminal cases, the evidentiary standard in personal injury cases is low. Nevertheless, this does not mean the processes involved in claiming compensation are simple. The complex procedures and juggling between healing and seeking compensation can be overwhelming. While evidence gathering is critical to recovering damages, you need help from an injury law firm or attorney to focus on recovery solely.
Find a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me
When you have sustained harm caused by another person’s negligence, seeking legal redress, mainly if you have racked up medical expenses and lost income, is the way to go. However, to ensure success in your claim, you must understand the burden of proof in these cases. At the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we will help you understand this standard and obtain maximum reimbursement. Call us today at 619-478-4059 for a zero-obligation consultation in San Diego, CA.