The Burden of Proof in Personal Injury Cases
If you or a loved one suffers injury at the hands of a negligent defendant, you may want to know what evidence will be required to secure an adequate jury award or reasonable settlement.
Elements of a Personal Injury Case
In a Texas personal injury case, a plaintiff must satisfy the burden of proof for these four elements:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care;
- The defendant failed to exercise reasonable care;
- The defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused the plaintiff’s injuries; and
- The plaintiff suffered damages.
The burden of proof refers to the standard that a party must satisfy to legally establish a fact in court.
Preponderance of the Evidence
This burden of proof is the most common. It is used to prove the four elements of a personal injury claim. It means that one side’s evidence is sufficient to sway an impartial mind to one side of the issue instead of the other.
The plaintiff presents witness testimony, expert testimony, and physical evidence to meet this burden of proof and establish the elements of their claim. In response, the defendant may do two things.
First, the defendant may attempt to rebut the plaintiff’s evidence with their own. Or, they may choose to produce no evidence to defend themselves. The defendant wins if the plaintiff doesn’t prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence.
This standard is not necessarily a numbers game. For example, if a dog bites you, it’s important to establish whether that dog had ever bitten someone before. At trial, you put a witness on the stand who testifies that she’s seen the dog bite her husband before. The defendant provides four witnesses that testify they’ve never seen the dog bite anyone. The fact that the defendant produced four witnesses to your one doesn’t necessarily prove the dog’s never bitten anyone before. Perhaps the jury, in assessing the credibility of all those who testified, believed your single witness.
Other Common Burdens of Proof
Most facts must be established by the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof. However, in Texas law, two others are frequently used.
A High Bar – Clear and Convincing Evidence
This is a higher standard of proof than preponderance of the evidence. It “means the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established.”
This standard is required in personal injury cases when the plaintiff is seeking exemplary (punitive) damages. The plaintiff must prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant acted maliciously, with gross negligence, or with fraud.
It’s also used in divorce and family law matters.
Property possessed by either spouse during divorce proceedings is presumed to be joint property. Clear and convincing evidence is required to establish that property is separate property. Tex. Fam. Code § 3.003.
Due process requires that there must be clear and convincing proof that a parent engaged in abandonment, endangerment, or other prohibited conduct for a judge to terminate that parent’s parental rights. In the Interest of J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2003).
The Highest Bar – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
If you’re an avid reader of legal procedurals, view court dramas on TV, or watch legal thrillers at the movies, you know all about this standard.
It’s the burden of proof the prosecution must meet to convict a defendant in criminal cases.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt “means proof to a high degree of certainty…[if] the evidence at trial raises only a suspicion of guilt, even a strong one, then that evidence is insufficient.”
Urbano v. State, 837 S.W.2d 114, 116 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992).
The standard is also used in some civil matters. Before a child may be adjudicated a delinquent, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child has engaged in delinquent conduct.
Shifting the Burden of Proof to the Defendant
Occasionally, the burden of proof in a civil case may shift to the defendant. If the plaintiff has sufficiently established their cause of action, then the defendant may have an affirmative defense. A typical example of this in Texas occurs in defamation law, where the plaintiff is a private (not public) individual.
Contact an Experienced Attorney For Help
Regardless of the burden of proof for a specific issue in your personal injury case, you can rely on our legal experts to present the right types of evidence needed to meet that burden of proof. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney today to discuss what proof may be required for your injury case.