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Understanding the Burden of Proof in Personal Injury

In a personal injury case, the burden of proof is the obligation that you have to prove that your version of events is true. It's what the party must do to win their case. The burden of proof is the standard of how much evidence a person has to present for the jury to rule in their favor. Although many of us have heard the term burden of proof before, most of the time it's in the context of a criminal case. You may not realize that there is also a distinct burden of proof that applies to civil cases. If you have sustained injuries in an accident, it's important to understand what this burden of proof entails to determine what needs to be done for a successful outcome. Here's what you should know about the burden of proof in a personal injury case.

The Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case

In a personal injury case, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. When something's true by a preponderance of the evidence, it's more likely than not. It's essentially 51 percent or more. This is the lowest burden of proof that exists to win a final judgment in a case. Basically, the jury just has to decide whether it's more likely than not that your version of events is true.

How Does the Burden of Proof Apply to the Plaintiff?

It's up to the plaintiff to satisfy the burden of proof in a personal injury case. That means, it's up to the plaintiff to present the evidence that their version of events is right. In an injury case, the plaintiff must convince the person deciding the suit that their version of events is correct more likely than not.

How Does the Burden of Proof Apply to the Defendant?

The defendant doesn't have to prove anything at trial. They sit back and wait for the plaintiff to present their case. If the plaintiff doesn't offer enough evidence to satisfy the jury that their version of events is more likely than not, the defendant should win the case. That makes it possible for a defendant to win a lawsuit without having to say a single thing. Of course, there's no way to tell what a jury is thinking until they render their verdict. However, it's important to keep in mind that the burden of proof falls to the plaintiff. If there's a tie, and the jury thinks each version of events is equally likely, the plaintiff hasn't met the burden of proof. In that case, the defendant should win the case.

Affirmative Defenses

Once you present your evidence, the defense can offer their own version of events. They can try to convince the jury that you haven't met your burden of proof. The defendant can also present affirmative defenses. A defense is referred to as an affirmative defense because it requires the defendant to present evidence. Examples of an affirmative defense are self-defense, necessity, and assumption of the risk. If the other side presents an affirmative defense, they have the burden to prove that it's true. If the jury believes that their affirmative defense is true by a preponderance of the evidence, the plaintiff loses the case.

What Do You Have to Do to Meet the Burden?

Personal injury claims are made up of parts called elements. Elements are all the things that must be true for you to win your case. To meet the burden of proof, that means you have to provide enough evidence to satisfy each element of the offense. Most injury cases are based on negligence. That means you must prove that the other side had a duty to act carefully, that they breached that duty, that you're hurt as a result, and that you suffered damages. In the case of a defective product, strict liability may apply. In that case, you only have to prove that the product is defective and that you have damages as a result. It's not enough to meet the burden of proof for some elements of the offense. If you meet the burden of proof for three of the elements, but you don't have proof of the last element, you haven't met your burden of proof. You might have solid proof that you're hurt and that the other side breached their duty of care, but if you can't also prove that their breach caused your injuries, you can't prove your case.

Related: Establishing Fault in Your Personal Injury Case

A Different Burden for Punitive Damages

The burden of proof is different for punitive damages. The burden to win punitive damages is clear and convincing evidence. Nevada Revised Statute 42.005 says that the plaintiff must present evidence that shows in a clear and convincing manner that the defendant acted with fraud, malice or oppression. To win punitive damages, you must establish the additional element that the defendant acted with malice, fraud or oppression, and you have to prove it by clear and convincing evidence.

What Other Standards Apply for Other Types of Cases?

The preponderance of the evidence is only one burden of proof in the court system. In criminal cases, the state has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. That's a stricter burden of proof than the burden for personal injury cases. Depending on the type of proceeding, other burdens of proof that apply in a case might be probable cause, reasonable belief, and substantial evidence.

Things to Keep in Mind

It's important to keep the burden of proof in mind as you work on your case. If the burden of proof is the preponderance of the evidence or 51 percent, you might make different choices in your case than if the burden of proof is clear and convincing evidence. Knowing the burden of proof helps you assess the strength of your case. When you have a realistic picture of the strength of your case, you can make smart decisions as your case moves forward.

Why Work With a Personal Injury Attorney

An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand how the burden of proof applies to your case. They can evaluate and prepare your case to meet the burden of proof. They prepare to respond to any issues or affirmative defenses that the other side might try to raise. Knowing the burden of proof helps you build your case correctly and make the right decisions to reach the best possible result. The skilled legal team at Bernstein & Poisson have extensive experience with both personal injury cases and meeting the burden of proof for a successful outcome. We have dedicated our careers to providing expert legal services to help protect the rights of Las Vegas residents. Call us at (702) 602-8869 or fill out our contact form to schedule your free consultation to review your case. There is no fee unless we win.