Burden of Proof

When a party brings a personal injury lawsuit against another party, the law requires them to prove their claims with evidence. One requirement of proving claims is also known as the burden of proof

However, there is not just one burden of proof. Rather, the burden of proof is different depending on the type of case or claims involved in the lawsuit. It is important to understand the different thresholds of burdens of proof and which one applies to your lawsuit.

How Does a Burden of Proof Work?

The plaintiff has the initial burden of proof in all personal injury lawsuits. This means that the plaintiff must prove their case to win. To meet or satisfy the required burden of proof, the plaintiff will introduce evidence in the form of physical evidence (e.g., photos) and witness testimony.

Because the plaintiff has the burden of proof, the defendant does not have to present any evidence to defend their case. If the plaintiff fails to prove the elements of their claim according to the relevant burden of proof, the plaintiff’s claim fails, and the defendant is not liable.

What Are the Different Burdens Of Proof?

There are several different thresholds of burdens of proof. Different burdens of proof apply to different claims or cases and require different levels of evidence.

The Preponderance of the Evidence Standard

The preponderance of the evidence standard is the burden of proof most frequently used in personal injury cases. This burden of proof is commonly referred to as the “more likely than not” standard because it requires that a plaintiff provide enough evidence to show that their claim or their side of the story is more likely than not to have happened. 

For example, Anne is suing Brad after a car accident. According to Missouri law, to be successful in her car accident case against Brad, Anne will have to prove that:

  • Brad owed her a duty to exercise reasonable care;
  • Brad breached his duty;
  • Brad’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused Anne’s injuries; and,
  • Anne suffered actual damages.

Anne alleges that Brad was distracted while driving because he was texting on his cell phone, and he rear-ended Anne while she was stopped at a stoplight, resulting in serious injuries to Anne’s neck and back. Brad alleges that a cat ran out in front of him while he was driving, which caused him to collide with Anne. 

During the trial, Anne has three witnesses testify that they were on the sidewalk on the day of the accident and that they saw Brad looking at his cell phone just before the collision. Anne is also able to provide text message logs from Brad’s cell phone showing that he was texting his wife seconds before the collision. 

At this point, Anne has likely met her burden of proof, though it will still come down to whether the jury agrees.

Clear And Convincing 

The clear and convincing burden of proof is higher than the preponderance of the evidence burden discussed above. To satisfy this threshold, the party with the burden must provide evidence showing that their view of the events is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue. 

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Many people that have seen legal dramas on television or in movies are familiar with the beyond a reasonable doubt burden of proof. The beyond a reasonable doubt burden of proof is used in criminal matters and is the highest burden of proof in the law. Under this burden, the prosecution or the government must prove that “there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented at trial.”

Can the Burden of Proof Shift to the Defendant?

As discussed earlier in this article, satisfying the burden of proof is the plaintiff’s responsibility. However, there are times when the burden of proof may shift to the defendant. 

For example, in the scenario about the accident involving Anne and Brad above, if Anne proves every element of her case against Brad, Brad may have an affirmative defense to avoid liability for the accident. Brad may claim that Anne’s lawsuit is no good because it is outside of the statute of limitations. If Brad’s affirmative defense is successful, then the court will dismiss Anne’s lawsuit even if she proves all the elements necessary to win. However, Brad will have the burden to prove that Anne’s case is outside of the statute of limitations and that the court should dismiss her lawsuit.

A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

As this blog piece shows, which burden of proof threshold applies to your case can influence the ultimate result. Fortunately, a skilled attorney is more than familiar with what threshold applies in every matter that comes before them – and argues accordingly. Feel free to contact a lawyer today for a free consultation to discuss your case.