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What Does Burden of Proof Mean?

The burden of proof is the level of evidence one must have to prove their criminal or civil case. It requires a party to provide convincing evidence in court to support its claim.

In a personal injury case, the burden of proof means that you must have evidence that another party injured you. If you cannot prove the other party caused your injury, you cannot hold them financially responsible for your damages.

Most injury cases are settled without filing a civil lawsuit. You and the party who caused your injury (an insurer typically stands in for this party) agree to the terms of a settlement through negotiations. However, you will typically initiate a lawsuit if you cannot agree on a settlement or if the other party disputes liability.

Who Has the Burden of Proof in a Civil Lawsuit?

Who Has the Burden of Proof in a Civil Lawsuit?

In civil cases, the plaintiff (the party bringing the action) has the burden of proof. That means it is up to the accident victim to prevent evidence that convinces the judge or jury that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the state to prove the defendant committed the alleged crime.

Are There Different Standards for Different Cases?

Yes, there are different standards or levels of proof that you must meet to win your case. For example, to satisfy the burden of proof in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden of proof is the highest legal standard.

The common standard of proof for civil cases is a preponderance of the evidence. This standard requires you to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused your injury. In other words, there is more than a 50 percent chance that the defendant is at fault.

The evidence standard for punitive damages differs from the standard for regular damages, such as medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. 

Because punitive damages “punish” the defendant, the evidence standard is higher. Florida Statute §768.72 requires a plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s conduct justifies an award of punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence. This standard of proof is higher than by a preponderance of the evidence.

For punitive damages, you must prove that it is “substantially and highly more likely” that the defendant engaged in conduct that would meet the requirement for punitive damages. 

Instead of a 50 percent burden of persuasion, you are closer to beyond a reasonable doubt, but not quite. Although there could still be doubt, it must be highly more likely that the defendant is guilty of the alleged conduct than not.

Can the Burden of Proof Shift to the Defendant?

The defendant has the burden to prove any affirmative defenses they assert to their conduct, such as assumption of risk, failure to mitigate damages, self-defense, etc.

The burden of proof also shifts to the defendant if the plaintiff is alleging negligence per se. In a negligence per se case, the defendant is guilty of committing a criminal act as part of the breach of duty owed to the plaintiff.

For example, the defendant was drunk at the time of the car crash or motorcycle accident when the plaintiff was injured. Because the defendant was breaking a law that carries a criminal punishment, the defendant can be presumed guilty of negligence. However, the law must be a crime of public interest for the burden of proof to shift. 

In a negligence per se case, the defendant would then need to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he did not cause engage in the conduct that led to the plaintiff’s injuries.

What Evidence Is Used in a Personal Injury Case to Prove Fault?

You have the burden of convincing jury members that the defendant caused your injury. Therefore, you need to present compelling evidence that would cause the average person to believe there is a greater chance that the defendant did what you said than not.

Evidence that may be presented at a personal injury trial may include, but is not limited to:

  • Statements from the parties to the legal action
  • Statements from eyewitnesses 
  • Physical evidence from the accident scene or other physical evidence that applies to the case
  • Copies of the plaintiff’s medical records proving injuries 
  • Testimony from expert witnesses, including medical experts, accident reconstructionists, economists, engineers, researchers, etc.
  • Video and photographic evidence 
  • Evidence related to economic damages, including lost wages, personal care costs, medical bills, etc. 

The Florida Rules of Evidence dictate what evidence may be presented in court. All parties must follow these rules as part of their burden of production of evidence. 

Call Our Miami Personal Injury Lawyers Today for a Free Consultation 

If you were injured in an accident, you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact our Miami, Florida law office now at (305) 937-0191 to schedule a free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys at Shaked Law Firm