The burden of proof is one of the most important legal concepts to understand if you are advancing a legal case. But what exactly does this term mean? And how can it impact the outcome of your case?
An experienced personal injury lawyer can explain this concept and help you meet it.
What Is the Burden of Proof?
The burden of proof is a legal standard someone has to establish to prove a fact or win their case in a court of law. It is also sometimes the standard that must be met to advance a particular legal action, such as securing a warrant.
Different Burdens of Proof
One of the more complex aspects of the burden of proof is that different standards of proof can apply in different situations. For example, the burden of proof in a criminal case is much higher than the burden of proof in a civil case. This makes sense because a person can lose their freedom and important rights if they are convicted of a crime.
Here are some of the most common burdens of proof and how they are defined:
- Preponderance of the evidence – This burden of proof is met when the plaintiff shows that their claim is more likely than not true. This is the standard of proof necessary in most civil cases, including personal injury claims.
- Beyond a reasonable doubt – There is no other reasonable explanation than the criminal defendant committed all elements of the crime.
- Clear and convincing evidence – Under this burden of proof, the evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true. This burden of proof applies to some civil and criminal matters, including punitive damage claims or when a criminal defendant pleads insanity.
- Probable cause – Probable cause must be established before a court issues a search warrant. This burden of proof is met when a court determines there is a reasonable basis that a crime has been committed or evidence of a crime is located in a place to be searched.
- Reasonable suspicion – Police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime or traffic violation has been committed before they can execute a police stop.
- Some credible evidence – Child protective services claims may require some credible evidence before the agency can take action.
An experienced lawyer can evaluate your situation and explain which burden of proof applies to it.
What Is the Importance of Meeting the Burden of Proof?
The burden of proof establishes how much evidence you need to prove your case, as well as how convincing this evidence must be. It is vital that you are able to meet your burden of proof. If you cannot meet it, you cannot win your case.
Who Has the Burden of Proof?
Generally, the party advancing the case has the burden of proof. For example, plaintiffs in civil cases have the burden of proof. Prosecutors have the burden of proof in criminal cases. The defendant usually does not have to prove their version of events. However, they retain the right to present their own evidence and testimony to contradict the other side.
There are times when the burden may shift to the other party. For example, a defendant may have the burden of proof when asserting an affirmative defense, such as self-defense. If the defendant proves their defense under the applicable burden of proof, they may be able to escape criminal responsibility or financial liability for the offense.
The Burden of Proof in Personal Injury Cases
In most personal injury cases, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. This requires the plaintiff to show that the fact in dispute is more likely than not as the plaintiff asserts. This is sometimes explained as showing more than 50% that the facts are in the plaintiff’s favor.
Most personal injury cases are based on the theory of negligence.
This legal theory requires that you show four legal elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
- Duty of care – The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, such as the duty to act as a reasonable, prudent person would under similar circumstances
- Breach – The defendant breached the duty of care by acting or failing to act in a certain way.
- Causation – The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Damages – The plaintiff suffered damages in the accident, for which the court can award financial compensation.
Let’s look at an example to see how these elements work: You are driving down the road when you are suddenly hit from behind. Because of the car accident, you suffer whiplash and a broken arm. You have medical bills to pay and missed time from work.
Here are the elements you must prove:
- The defendant had a legal duty to obey traffic laws and avoid actions that would foreseeably injure others.
- The defendant breached the duty of care by following too closely and/or failing to stop to avoid a collision.
- The defendant’s breach caused the car accident.
- You suffered damages as a result of the accident in the form of medical expenses and lost wages.
Strong evidence can help you establish the burden of proof in your personal injury case.
How To Meet the Burden of Proof in a Louisiana Personal Injury Claim
To meet your burden of proof, you will likely need more evidence than just your word against the defendant’s word. Objective evidence can help you show that things are the way you say.
Examples of evidence your personal injury lawyer may be able to obtain to help you meet the burden of proof include:
- Written accident reports
- Testimony from objective witnesses
- Photos of the accident scene
- Video footage of the accident from surveillance cameras, traffic cameras, or dash cams
- Employment and business records
- Reports from governmental agencies
- Physical evidence from the accident scene, such as the clothing you were wearing at the time of the accident or broken car parts
- Medical records
- Reports from expert witnesses
Our Lafayette personal injury attorney knows how to identify, preserve, and gather compelling evidence to help establish your claim. Contact us today at (337) 399-9000 for help with your personal injury claim.