The burden of proof is the measure of the evidence you need to win a claim. It is much higher for a criminal prosecution, for example than for a personal injury lawsuit. It is higher for a punitive damages claim than for a compensatory damages claim. The purpose of imposing a burden of proof is to ensure the court makes a rational decision.
The Rationale Behind Varying Burdens of Proof
There are different thresholds of the burden of proof, depending on the context and the consequences that can result. These are:
- “Beyond a reasonable doubt,” where a court can sentence you to prison or even execution.
- “Clear and convincing evidence,” where a court can assess punitive damages against you, which are designed to punish you.
- “Preponderance of the evidence,” where a court can assess compensatory damages against you-–you must pay for the harm you caused, but no more.
The harsher the possible result, the higher the burden of proof needs to be.
The Elements of a Personal Injury Claim
To win a personal injury claim, you must prove four elements:
- The defendant owed the accident victim a duty of care. The specific nature of this duty varies depending on the facts of the case—a doctor has a higher duty in rendering medical care than a Good Samaritan, for example.
- The defendant breached their duty of care toward the plaintiff. A doctor might have performed incompetent surgery, for example.
- The plaintiff suffered physical harm.
- The defendant’s failure to meet their duty of care was the factual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s harm.
You must prove each of these four elements by a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
The “Preponderance of the Evidence” Standard
In personal injury law, “preponderance of the evidence” means “more likely than not.” All you have to do to meet your burden of proof is convince the court that the defendant is more than 50% likely to be liable for your injuries. As long as your evidence is more persuasive than the defendant’s evidence, even if only slightly, then you win.
The “preponderance of the evidence” standard is much easier to meet than the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal prosecutions. This sometimes leads to the seemingly paradoxical result that a defendant can win an acquittal in a criminal case yet lose a personal injury case based on the same conduct.
The “Clear and Convincing Evidence” Standard
“Clear and convincing evidence” means enough evidence to create a firm conviction in the jury’s mind that the fact you are trying to prove is true. Some reasonable doubt may remain, but the sense of certainty far outweighs the doubt. The “clear and convincing evidence” standard is higher than a preponderance of the evidence but lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Affirmative Defenses: When the Defendant Bears the Burden of Proof
An affirmative defense is a defense that will win the case for the defendant even if the plaintiff proves the defendant committed the acts that the plaintiff alleges. Following are some examples of affirmative defenses:
- The statute of limitations has expired;
- An arbitration panel has already decided the case;
- The defendant assumed the risk of injury;
- Contributory negligence;
- The parties have already settled the case, and the plaintiff has issued the defendant a release;
- Res judicata: The case has already been decided, and all appeals have been exhausted.
When asserting an affirmative defense, the defendant must usually prove that defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Pretrial Discovery Process: A Way of Gathering Evidence To Meet the Burden of Proof
Sometimes the defendant holds all or most of the evidence that the plaintiff needs to prove their case. Under these circumstances, it might make sense to file a lawsuit to gain access to the pretrial discovery process. In pretrial discovery, you can:
- Interview hostile witnesses under oath;
- Submit written questions that the defendant must answer under oath;
- Demand copies of documents; and
- Demand access to physical evidence.
The defendant can also use the above-described tools to gather evidence from you.
Why You Can Win a Lawsuit Even If the Defendant Was Acquitted in Criminal Court
The prosecution must prove the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal court. This burden of proof applies in a criminal prosecution, and it is not used in any other context.
To meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, the prosecution must persuade the jury that the defendant’s guilt is the only rational explanation for the evidence. The level of certainty must approach 100%.
A Seasoned Fort Worth Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Meet the Applicable Burden of Proof
Establishing the burden of proof requires evidence that complies with the Texas Rules of Evidence, which any personal injury lawyer should know by heart. In many cases, however, you need more than evidence–you need persuasive powers. This applies to settlement negotiations and trials. Contact a Fort Worth personal injury attorney at Anderson Injury Lawyers for a free initial consultation by calling (817) 294-1900.