When you file a personal injury or another civil lawsuit in California, the petitioner or claimant has the burden to prove the case. The same is true for the prosecutor in a criminal case. There are, however, varying degrees of this burden. Knowing which applies in your case matters because it determines the extent to which you must prove your case.
At The Geller Firm, our personal injury lawyer in San Francisco will review your case and determine your legal options. Once you decide how to proceed, a strategy will be put into place, and that involves making sure the burden of proof is properly addressed and adequately implemented. It is our goal to get you the best possible outcome in terms of compensation, and proving your case is our objective to meet that goal. Contact us today at 415-840-0570 to schedule a free consultation.
Burden of Proof and Insurance Adjusters
Often, before a personal injury case goes to court, a settlement will be attempted via your lawyer and the insurance company. Most cases, in fact, settle outside of court. There is no burden of proof requirement during this period of negotiations. Burden of proof is an element of the court system.
That said, it is important that even during negotiations, your personal injury lawyer treats your case as though you were going to trial. That means making sure you satisfy the burden of proof. The problem is this: many lawyers may not uphold this principle, and that leaves room for vulnerabilities in the negotiation process.
At The Geller Firm, our personal injury lawyer will ensure your interests are represented and your case is well-supported and documented during the negotiation process. We want to make sure the insurance company knows we are serious about getting you fair and just compensation. If they do not, then a lawsuit may have to be filed, and we will already be prepared for it.
Burden of Proof in California Personal Injury Cases
The burden of proof identifies which party is responsible for proving their case in court. The standard of proof is the threshold to which a party must prove its case to win. In other words, it's the level of evidence necessary to establish a claim.
The party with the burden of proof proves their case by presenting evidence to the judge and jury.
Most people are familiar with the burden of proof referred to as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, this is a very high standard of proof that only applies in criminal cases. Civil cases use lower standards of proof, either “a preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence.”
A preponderance of the evidence is the most common standard of proof required in personal injury cases.
Understanding Preponderance of the Evidence
To prove something by a preponderance of the evidence, it must be “more likely than not” that a party's version of events is true. In other words, there must be at least a 51% chance that their version of events is true.
In a personal injury case, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. They must prove each element of their claim on a preponderance of the evidence, including the following four main elements of a personal injury case:
- The defendant owed them a duty of care.
- The defendant breached that duty of care.
- This breach caused an injury to the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff sustained monetarily-quantifiable damages as a result.
A defendant in a personal injury case does not have to prove anything. If a plaintiff's evidence is weak, a defendant may say nothing and simply let the judge or jury decide whether the plaintiff has proved their case to the necessary standard.
However, if a defendant raises an affirmative defense, such as assumption of risk or comparative negligence, the burden of proof shifts to them and they must prove the elements of their defense. In personal injury cases, the standard of proof that usually applies to affirmative defenses is also by a preponderance of the evidence.
Understanding Clear and Convincing Evidence
When a plaintiff seeks punitive damages (i.e., damages that go beyond economic and non-economic compensatory damages and are more about deterrence and punishment) in a personal injury case, a higher standard of proof applies. They must show they are entitled to punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence.
Clear and convincing evidence means there is a high probability that the plaintiff's assertion is true. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that their claim that punitive damages are necessary is highly and substantially more likely to be true than not.
This standard of proof is also referred to as “clear, convincing, and satisfactory” or “clear, unequivocal, satisfactory, and convincing” evidence.
Clear and convincing evidence is a higher standard of proof than a preponderance of the evidence (but less than beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof), so punitive damages are awarded in more limited circumstances.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney in Contra Costa County Today
If you or a loved one have a personal injury claim or think you may have one, it is in your best interests to speak to a personal injury lawyer in San Francisco. There are statutes of limitations imposed on these types of claims, and the clock starts clicking on the date of the injury (or on the date you reasonably should have known about the injury). Contact The Geller Firm today, and our personal injury lawyer will schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and to ensure there is enough evidence (or will be enough) to satisfy the burden of proof.