What Is the Burden of Proof In a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

By September 19, 2010 January 13th, 2018 Personal Injury

The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled without the need to go to trial. Most personal injury lawsuits are relatively straight forward with negligence clear and damages easily assessed. Additionally, the cost for an insurance company to take a case to trial can easily exceed the amount of monetary damages that the plaintiff was willing to settle for prior to trial. As a result, most personal injury lawsuits are settled through a negotiation process between the victim’s attorney and the insurance company. In some cases, however, a trial becomes inevitable. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the insurance company or the negligent party refuses to admit negligence. Settlement negotiations cannot succeed if the parties cannot agree on who was negligent (at fault) in the accident. Along the same lines, it may be that the parties cannot agree on the percentage of negligence attributable to the parties. In states such as California negligence can be split among the parties involved in the accident. As such, one party can be 70% responsible with the other party sharing 30% of the responsible for example. When the parties are only a small distance apart on an agreement as to percentage of responsibility it is unlikely that the case will go to trial. However, in some cases a small difference can amount to a sizable amount of money. If damages are $500,000 then a difference of 10% can amount to a $50,000 difference in what the insurance company will be responsible for paying to the victim. So when a personal injury case does proceed to trial, what burden does the plaintiff (victim) have in order to be successful?

Most people are familiar with the “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden that is required in a criminal trial. This burden of proof is the highest burden of proof required in the American judicial system. With lives at stake, it is understandable that the burden of proof should be extraordinary. In a civil trial, however, such as a personal injury lawsuit, the burden of proof is not as difficult for the plaintiff to reach. In a personal injury lawsuit the burden required by the victim is “beyond a preponderance of the evidence”. Legal scholars have debated exactly what “beyond a preponderance of the evidence” means for decades. For practical purposes, it means something along the lines of “more likely than not”. This generally favors the plaintiff in a civil trial. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant “more likely than not” was negligent and caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff is not required to erase all reasonable doubt as in a criminal trial. If the jury is convinced that the defendant was negligent beyond a preponderance of the evidence then they must return a verdict for the plaintiff. This clearly does not assure a plaintiff a victory at a civil personal injury trial, but it makes proving negligence much easier than if the burden were that of a criminal case.

If you would like an evaluation of your personal injury case, please contact experienced personal injury attorney Emery Ledger of Ledger & Associates at 1-800-300-0001 or visit him online at www.ledgerlaw.com