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The Burden of Proof: What is it and How Does It Apply to My Personal Injury Case?

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The Burden of Proof: What is it and How Does It Apply to My Personal Injury Case?

The Burden of Proof: What is it and How Does It Apply to My Personal Injury Case?Suppose you’ve suffered an injury due to another’s negligence. If so, you may be wondering what level of evidence you need to prove your personal injury claim.

More specifically, you might want to know what your lawyer will need to prove at trial for you to obtain a jury award.

All you have to do is give us a call. Your first case evaluation is free, so don’t hesitate and contact our NY law offices to discuss your options today.

Elements of a Personal Injury Case

In a New York personal injury case, a plaintiff meets their burden of proof by proving four elements:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to act with reasonable care;
  • The defendant breached their duty to exercise reasonable care;
  • The failure to exercise reasonable care caused the plaintiff’s injuries; and
  • The plaintiff suffered damages.

The burden of proof refers to the amount of evidence that the plaintiff must provide to establish each of these elements.

The Preponderance of the Evidence Standard

witnessThis standard is the burden of proof used in most personal injury claims. The preponderance of the evidence burden is sometimes referred to as “the more likely than not” standard. A plaintiff meets this burden when they prove their version of the events is more likely than not to have occurred.

The plaintiff bears this burden of proof. To meet it, they will introduce physical evidence and testimony from witnesses.

However, the defendant is not required to present any evidence to defend their case. If the plaintiff does not prove the elements of their claim by a preponderance of the evidence, the defendant is not liable.

It’s tempting to think of the preponderance of the evidence as a numbers game, but it’s not necessarily.

For example, assume a person punches you.  You sue the person who hit you, but they claim they never touched you – that it was someone else. You testify in court that the defendant was the one who punched you. The defendant and three other witnesses testified it was someone else.

The defendant will not necessarily win because he had four witnesses and you only had one. Perhaps the jury, while closely observing the witnesses’ demeanor during testimony, found you more credible. That is fine. A jury is allowed to assess witness credibility to make their decision.

Other Burdens of Proof in New York

There are other standards used to meet the burden of proof.

Probable Cause

This standard is the one customarily applied in search and seizure law. In People v. White, New York’s Court of Appeal defined probable cause as “reasonable ground[s] … for making a search, that is, observations or information sufficient to move a reasonable [person] to conclude that a crime is being committed or attempted.”

Clear and Convincing Evidence

convincing evidenceThis is a higher standard of proof than preponderance of the evidence.

Clear and convincing evidence standard is “met only when the proof establishes a high probability that the [conduct sought to be proven] occurred.”

In contrast with preponderance of the evidence, this standard means that the evidence is highly and substantially more likely true than not.

Many civil matters require clear and convincing evidence. One example is in family law when determining whether the restoration of parental rights is in the child’s best interest. A parent has to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the restoration of their rights is best for the child.

The clear and convincing standard also applies in personal injury cases when a plaintiff seeks punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer rather than compensate a victim for damages. To obtain these damages, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence they are necessary in their case.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Anyone who’s ever read a legal thriller or watched a court drama on TV is familiar with the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. This burden is the highest standard of proof, and it is commonly used in criminal trials.

The prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover it has this burden for every element of a crime.

Shifting the Burden of Proof to the Defendant

affirmative defenseWhile the burden of proof is generally the plaintiff’s responsibility, occasionally, it may shift to the defendant. After the plaintiff has established the elements of their claim, the defendant may raise an affirmative defense in an attempt to avoid liability. In this case, the defendant has the burden of proof for their affirmative defense.

In private defamation cases, truth is an affirmative defense.

For instance, assume Maria posts a comment on Facebook about Mike. She claims that Mike, who sells mutual funds for a living, cheats his clients and misrepresents facts about each fund’s performance.

Mike can sue Maria for libel. If he does, he’ll have to establish each element of a libel claim. Once he’s done that, Maria can raise the affirmative defense that what she posted about Mike’s conduct was true. In this case, the burden of proof would switch to Maria to prove the truth of her statements.

Why You Need an Attorney for Your Personal Injury Case in New York

No personal injury plaintiff will prevail if they can’t meet the burden of proof at trial. Whether it’s the preponderance of the evidence or a clear and convincing standard in your civil case, our attorneys know the ins-and-outs of the kinds of evidence needed in court to win your case.