The Burden of Proof: What is it and How Does It Apply to My Personal Injury Case?
If you’ve been injured in an accident, you might be wondering what evidence is required to negotiate a reasonable settlement or receive an adequate jury award.
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Elements of a Personal Injury Case
In a Florida personal injury claim, the plaintiff must typically prove that a defendant was negligent to recover compensation for their injuries.
The plaintiff proves negligence by satisfying the burden of proof for four elements:
- The defendant owed them a duty of reasonable care:
- The defendant breached the duty;
- The breach was caused the plaintiff harm; and
- The plaintiff suffered damages due to their injury.
The burden of proof is a legal standard. It’s concerned with the amount and quality of evidence that a party must present to legally establish their case.
Preponderance of the Evidence
The preponderance of the evidence standard is the most common one and is used to establish the elements of the plaintiff’s personal injury claim. Basically, the plaintiff must prove that their version of the facts is “more likely than not.”
The plaintiff presents witness testimony and physical evidence to meet this burden of proof. However, the defendant has no requirement to introduce any evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s case. Establishing an element of a claim is the plaintiff’s responsibility – if they fail to meet the preponderance of the evidence standard of proof, their claim fails.
The preponderance of the evidence is not established only by a party’s number of witnesses or quantity of evidence. For instance, if you’re in a car accident, a critical fact may be whether the defendant was texting while driving. You and two others in the car testify that you each saw the defendant texting right before the accident.
The defendant presents no witnesses but testifies they were not texting. Just because you had three witnesses to the defendant’s one, doesn’t automatically mean you met the burden of proof. Based on the jury’s impression of you and your witnesses’ demeanor, it’s possible that the jury found the defendant more credible. This is a reasonable and acceptable outcome.
Other Burdens of Proof
There are other burdens of proof commonly used in Florida.
This is used in many law enforcement cases, such as traffic stops. Federal and Florida constitutional law define the reasonable suspicion standard as such suspicion that would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that an action (traffic stop) was appropriate.
Probable cause is applied in the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure clause. The U.S. Supreme Court has explained that probable cause exists where evidence is offered to support a reasonable inference that “there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.”
The standard is also used in preliminary hearings to determine whether the prosecution has produced enough evidence for a jury to find the defendant committed the charged crime. If so, the defendant goes to trial.
Preponderance of the Evidence
This is the standard one – higher than probable cause but lower than the next two.
Clear and Convincing Evidence
This is more difficult to meet.
According to Florida law:
“Clear and convincing evidence has been defined as an intermediate level of proof [that] entails both a qualitative and quantitative standard. The evidence must be credible; the memories of the witnesses must be clear and without confusion; and the sum total of the evidence must be of sufficient weight to convince the trier of fact without hesitancy.”
The standard is used in many legal matters. For example, a defendant who denies they ever received service of process must prove that by clear and convincing evidence. It’s also the standard in termination of parental rights.
In personal injury cases, it’s the standard of proof for punitive damages.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
If you’ve ever read a legal thriller or watched a court drama on TV, you’re likely familiar with this standard. The prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. It must convince the jury that the evidence points to no other rational explanation than that the defendant committed the crime.
The Burden of Proof Shifts to the Other Party
Occasionally, the burden of proof may shift to the defendant. For example, in family law, the parent who wants to relocate the child must show by a preponderance of the evidence that it’s in the child’s best interest. If that burden of proof is met, then the burden shifts to the parent who doesn’t want the relocation. That parent then has the burden to prove that the proposed relocation is not in the child’s best interest.
Why You Need an Attorney for Your Personal Injury Case in Florida
The preponderance of the evidence is the middle-of-the-road standard for the burden of proof. But it can still be difficult to meet. A personal injury lawyer in Clearwater knows the types of evidence needed to meet this burden.