If you have been involved in an accident and sustained injuries, your main question may be how you can recover your damages. In order to win your case, your main focus should be on the burden of proof in your case. This refers to the amount of evidence you need to provide for you to win the case. It is essential to know if the judge requires you to convince them entirely that your version of the story is true or if they just need to be sure that your case is legitimate. The difference between the two legal concepts is referred to as the burden of proof. This blog outlines this concept to help you understand the burden of proof in personal injury cases.

The Basic Concepts of a Personal Injury Case

Even though not all injuries warrant a lawsuit, every victim who sustains injuries caused by another person’s negligence is entitled to compensation under personal injury laws in California. After an accident, both the person responsible for the accident and the alleged victim have to go through the burden of proof and various statutes, making personal injury lawsuits complex.

Understanding How Personal Injury Claims Work in California

In most cases, claims are settled before they get to trial. For example, most car accident cases are handled by insurance companies. In contrast, state insurance companies handle workers' compensations, and most programs handle slip and fall cases before they reach the litigation process. Most pre-trial processes are different based on the factors surrounding each case.

It is essential to be keen and cautious as some insurance providers may want to conclude the settlement process fast and may end up overlooking some severe damages. Having an attorney who can help you assess your claim value and help in the settlement process is essential.

Be sure to keep a clear record of your injuries, property repairs, medical expenses, all your medical appointments, and the time off you took from work due to the injuries. Taking photographs may also be necessary.

Filling a Lawsuit in California

Every victim who has sustained injuries in an accident and does not receive total compensation is entitled to file a claim against the faulty person. You can file a claim for your reputation, well-being, emotional, and health. If you can prove to the court that your injuries resulted from another person's negligence, you will be entitled to compensation. However, the process of seeking compensation depends on where and how you sustained the injuries and their severity.

What Are the Elements of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

There are five crucial elements that a plaintiff must prove in personal injury cases in California. They include:

  • The defendant had a duty to care for the alleged victim

  • The defendant breached their duty and did not practice care

  • The victim sustained injuries due to the lack of care from the defendant

  • The defendant was supposed to anticipate that their actions were likely to cause injuries to another person

  • The injuries sustained by the victim resulted in actual damage. (For instance, pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical treatment)

Remember, the burden of proof means the level a party must meet to prove liability in court.

The Major Burdens of Proof

The most common burdens of proof in California include:

Preponderance of Evidence

This type of evidence requires you to prove the above elements of a personal injury case. In other words, if you give concrete and sufficient evidence, it is enough to shift an unbiased mind to a specific case rather than the other side.

For you to meet preponderance evidence and prove the elements of your case, you are required to present the following to the court:

  • Photographs of the accident scene

  • A testimony from an expert

  • A witness testimony

  • Forensic reports (for example, an analysis of the damaged parts of the vehicle)

After presenting your evidence, the defendant can try to invalidate it by providing their own evidence. While other defendants may opt not to offer any evidence. If you fail to use preponderance evidence to prove your case, the defendant has a higher chance of winning the case.

Note that the jury does not use numbers to believe a story. For instance, Frank is bitten by his neighbor’s dog. It is essential for the judges to know if the dog had bitten another person in the past. To prove this, Frank brings Naomi to trial, who testifies that the dog had bitten her oldest son before. The defendant presents five witnesses who say they have never witnessed the dog bite anyone before to fight the charges. Just because the plaintiff has one witness and the defendant has four does not mean that the defendant will win the case. The jury will have to assess every witnesses’ statement in order to find the most credible one.

Comparative Fault Law

California law does not treat all cases as one-sided cases. The alleged victim can also be partially responsible for their injuries. Even though the defendant owed the plaintiff reasonable care, they were also supposed to take extra caution to avoid the damages. If the injuries could have been avoided if the plaintiff had been extra cautious, they cannot recover all the damages even if they file a claim.

For example, two motorists heading in different directions get involved in an accident. Driver 1, who was on the left side, had his phone ringing and reached out to see who had texted him. As he did so, he swerved and crossed on the other lane. Driver 2 saw driver 1 swerving but did not react immediately to prevent the accident. However, if driver 2 had responded immediately, the accident could not have occurred. In this case, driver 1 was at fault since he got distracted while driving. Although driver 2 did not cause the accident, he did not react to it as fast as he was supposed to, which means he is partially faulty.

Clear and Convincing Evidence

This type of evidence requires a plaintiff to provide proof in a standard higher than preponderance evidence. It is mainly used when plaintiffs in personal injury cases are pursuing punitive damages. The alleged victim is supposed to use clear and convincing evidence to prove the defendant’s negligence that caused the damages.

This type of evidence is also used in family law and divorce cases. During a divorce, any property that either spouse owned is assumed to be joint. In order for the court to rule the property as a separate property, the rightful owner needs to provide clear and convincing evidence.

Inference and Presumption

There are two tools that you can use to achieve the burden of proof. They include:

  • Presumption

  • Inference

Before beginning a case, the judge will have set instructions which may include presumption and inferences, which play a huge role in the success of a case. A presumption is a decision that the judge is supposed to make before opening a case. The jury must presume that the defendant is innocent before trial. Hence every defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

There are rebuttable and irrebuttable presumptions. A person can refute a rebuttable assumption, and the prosecutor can rebut the innocence assumption if the plaintiff proves beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. Some courts have a rebuttable assumption that kids below seven years are unable to form criminal intent. This means that the jury cannot prosecute a child below seven years. Note that assumptions that are irrebuttable are irrefutable and that can't be changed.

Punitive Damages

Although the preponderance of the evidence is the most common burden of proof in personal injury cases, there is a burden of proof required while seeking punitive damages. Punitive damages are a punishment method for a person or party that acted in a manner that was likely to cause harm to other people. If a defendant used malice, fraud, or oppression to hurt other people, the victims could ask for punitive damages under California law.

As the victim, you must use clear and convincing evidence to prove that you are qualified for the punitive damages. Since punitive damages aim at punishing the offenders, you need to fully convince the jury to ensure that only the guilty person is punished.

Shifting the Burden of Proof

Being able to meet the burden of proof is not a complex task, more so in civil lawsuits like in personal injury cases. In other words, it is easier to mee the burden of proof in civil lawsuits rather than in criminal lawsuits. However, you can represent yourself successfully and still meet the burden of proof. Note that the burden of proof can also be the defendant’s responsibility. This mainly occurs in personal injury cases when the defendant uses practical evidence as a defense method. For instance, if Peter hit James with a truck and a claim is raised that the vehicle Peter used to hit James was not registered under his name, Peter will have the burden of proof and can use this as a defense.

What Are Some of the Examples of Meeting the Burden of Proof?

There are different ways in which you can meet your burden of proof in a personal injury lawsuit. For instance:

  • Showing that the defendant caused an accident by making an illegal turn

  • Showing that your prolonged injuries or illnesses occurred because a medical expert did not diagnose the disease you were ailing from because they failed to take reasonable steps that a sensible doctor would have taken

  • Showing the defendant was aware that their property had a condition that posed a risk to the general public and did not warn them or try to fix it.

  • Proving that a certain vehicle company failed to inspect and maintain their cars leading to non-functional breaks that caused the accident that you were injured in.

Frequently Asked Questions About Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case

We have compiled a list of the frequently asked questions to help you understand this concept better.

What must you prove to meet the burden of proof?

You are supposed to prove several elements for you to meet your burden of proof. The most crucial thing that you need to prove is that the other party owed you a duty of care. You need to prove that they acted in a reckless, negligent, and intentional manner that was careless. You must also show that their behavior led to your injuries, which caused you damages.

Is the burden of proof the same in all cases?

A personal injury lawsuit has a different burden of proof from the criminal cases. Before a defendant is convicted for a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove that they are guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This type of evidence is higher than required in a personal injury lawsuit. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff is only expected to use the preponderance of evidence to prove that another person’s negligence caused their injuries. However, the plaintiff must show that their claims are valid at greater than 50% to meet their burden of proof.

Who is responsible for determining if the plaintiff has met their burden of proof?

There will likely be a disagreement between the defendant and the alleged victim on what happened before and during the accident. During the trial, a jury is responsible for making decisions. They are expected to listen to each side of the story, go through the evidence, and apply correct legal standards to the happenings.

How can the plaintiff meet the burden of proof?

Instead of only relying on oral testimonies, the plaintiff may hire a personal injury attorney to help them present more concrete evidence from different sources. For instance, if the plaintiff was injured in a car accident, their attorney can help them present photos of the accident scene, police reports, and testimonies from the eyewitness. If the plaintiff’s injury was caused by medical malpractice, the personal injury attorney could hire an expert to prove and show the mistakes made by the physician.

Does the negligent party have a burden of proof?

California law uses comparative negligence analysis in personal injury and accident cases. In other words, if the alleged victim contributed to the accident, the judge will reduce the negligent party's liability in proportion. The victim’s attorney may try to fight the victim’s contribution by presenting evidence on the events that occurred during the accident. On the other hand, the defendant’s attorney may also show how the victim acted and behaved during the whole incident.

For example, in a slip and fall accident, the defendant’s attorney may use CCTV footage to show that the victim was not exercising care and caution as they looked on their phones while they fell. Note that even though the victim meets their burden of proof, the defendant may use affirmative defense or present more evidence that could possibly reduce their liability. They could, for example, argue that:

  • A third party caused the accident.

  • The victim failed to alleviate their injuries. For example, they did not seek medical attention immediately.

  • The victim ignored the risks of the injury, or they gave in to the actions that resulted in their damages.

  • The victim filed the lawsuit after the relevant statute of limitation had expired.

Can the burden of proof shift to the defendant?

If the defendant applies affirmative defense to a wrongful claimed act, it can happen. In this case, after the alleged victim makes the case a “prima facie” for their liability, the burden of proof will shift to the defendant to prove why the court should excuse his actions.

For instance, Peter posts that his boss Joel is incompetent to lead a company on his Instagram. Joel sues Peter for written defamation. Peter then claims that his statements are factual and uses that as an affirmative defense. After Joel presents the required elements in a libel case, the burden of proof will shift to Peter to prove that his statements are factual.

Is there a number of Jurors that must agree?

California law does not require all the jurors to agree to give a binding decision. Only three-fourths of the jurors are expected to agree that the verdict is fair. For you to meet the burden of proof, three-fourths of the juror must believe your preponderance of the evidence that another person’s negligence caused your injuries.

Find a Los Angeles Injury Attorney Near Me

Even though the burden of proof is lower in a civil case than a criminal one, working with a skilled and experienced attorney is vital. Our attorneys at Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney have the expertise required to build a case that will help you meet your burden of proof. We can also help you prepare for trial and acquire evidence that can help you maximize your recovery. We offer both in-person and online consultations for those in Los Angeles. Call us today at 424-231-2013.