Burden of Proof

If you assert a personal injury claim against someone, you have to prove that they should bear liability for your injury. The defendant does not have to prove that they are not liable. 

Put simply, since you’re the one who is asserting the claim, you’re the one who has to prove it. It gets more complicated than that, of course, but this article will explain the concept further.

Establishing a Prima Facie Case

Establishing a Prima Facie Case

You have established a prima facie case against a defendant when you have submitted enough admissible evidence to support your claim. Establishing a prima facie case against the defendant means that it is now the defendant’s job to prove that they are not liable after all.

In other words, establishing a prima facie case against the defendant means you have reversed the burden of proof such that the defendant must now prove that they are not liable for your injuries.

Asserting an Affirmative Defense Reverses the Burden of Proof

There are two kinds of defenses: general denials and affirmative defenses. In a general denial, you (as the defendant) would argue that the plaintiff failed to submit enough admissible evidence to establish their claim. In an affirmative defense, your argument is that you are not liable even if the plaintiff’s assertions are all true.

Following are some examples of popular affirmative defenses:

  • Expiration of the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit (typically two years after the accident in Texas).
  • Comparative negligence: The defendant’s own negligence was partially responsible for their injuries. If that responsibility exceeds 50%, the defendant wins and pays nothing under state law. If your responsibility lies anywhere between 1% and 50%, however, a court will reduce the defendant’s damages by exactly the same percentage.
  • Assumption of risk: The defendant argues that you knew of an activity’s dangers in advance and that you voluntarily accepted those risks (a skydiving accident, for example).
  • Failure to mitigate damages. The defendant argues that you failed to make reasonable efforts to limit your damages, such as by failing to take prescribed medication. The defendant’s argument is that they shouldn’t bear liability for losses that you could have avoided.    

A court will not consider an affirmative defense unless the defendant pleads it. In other words, it is the defendant who must initiate an affirmative defense. Since the defendant is the one who initiates an affirmative defense, it is the defendant who must prove that defense. 

Asserting an affirmative defense reverses the burden of proof, switching it to the defendant with respect to the assertion.  

Burden of Proof Standards

How much evidence do you need to prove your personal injury claim? That depends on what type of claim you’re asserting.

A ‘Preponderance of the Evidence’

This is the standard that applies to almost all personal injury claims. All it really means is that you have to submit enough evidence to establish a greater than 50% likelihood that the defendant is liable. Even 51% will be enough because that’s enough to tip the scales of justice in your favor. 

‘Clear and Convincing Evidence’

‘Clear and convincing evidence’ is an elevated standard of proof that applies if you assert a claim for punitive damages. Suppose, for example, that you demand economic, non-economic, and punitive damages from a defendant. You must prove your claim for economic damages and non-economic damages by the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard. 

However, you must prove your claim for punitive damages by ‘clear and convincing evidence.’ In other words, your evidence must leave no substantial doubt, and it must create a firm belief or conviction that you qualify for punitive damages. 

Other Standards of Proof

Following are examples of standards of proof used in other areas of law:

  • Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt: Necessary for a criminal conviction, this standard is even more demanding than the ’clear and convincing evidence’ standard.
  • Probable cause: The police need probable cause to arrest you or search your home, for example.
  • Reasonable suspicion: This is a low standard of proof that police need to pat down your outer clothing for evidence of, say, a deadly weapon.
  • Substantial evidence: A low standard of proof that a court might use to review the appropriateness of the actions of an administrative agency such as the DEA.

Although other standards of proof apply to various circumstances, courts in personal injury cases almost always use either ‘a preponderance of the evidence’ or ‘clear and convincing evidence.’

Do You Need a Fort Worth Personal Injury Lawyer?

If your claim is worth a lot of money, you probably do. You might have no idea how much money your claim is worth, however, until you talk to a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. 

Don’t worry that you can’t pay your legal fees, as under the contingency fee system that most Fort Worth personal injury lawyers use, you don’t pay legal fees unless you win. Contact the Parker Law Firm Injury Lawyers at (817) 839-3143 for a free case consultation.