The “burden of proof” defines how much evidence you need to establish a particular fact you are trying to prove. In personal injury law, for example, you need to meet the burden of proof to establish your claim. Likewise, if you are asserting an affirmative defense, you need to meet the burden of proof to convince the judge to dismiss the plaintiff’s case against you.
Differing Standards for the Burden of Proof
The exact nature of the burden of proof you bear depends on what kind of fact you are trying to prove. The three most common standards are referred to as preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Preponderance of the Evidence
“Preponderance of the evidence” is the standard that most often applies to personal injury cases. This standard requires you to show that it is more likely than not that whatever you are trying to prove is actually true.
You don’t have to show that it is overwhelmingly likely, only that your case is at least slightly more persuasive than the defendant’s case. For this reason, some people refer to the preponderance of the evidence standard as the “51% standard.”
Clear and Convincing Evidence
In personal injury law, “clear and convincing evidence” is the standard that applies to a claim for punitive damages. You can win ordinary, compensatory damages using the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
However, if you want to add a claim for punitive damages on top of your compensatory damages, you must prove the defendant acted with malice or reckless disregard for your safety, and you must provide it with “clear and convincing evidence.”
There is no formula to tell you exactly when the weight of your evidence amounts to clear and convincing evidence. Ultimately, the determination is subjective. Nevertheless, to meet the clear and convincing evidence standard, you must prove that it is much more likely than not that you qualify for punitive damage.
Guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The term “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” is fairly self-explanatory. This standard applies to criminal proceedings, never to civil proceedings. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” doesn’t mean beyond a shadow of a doubt; any set of facts is subject to alternative explanations. It just means your evidence is enough to solidly convince any reasonable person.
It is much, much easier to meet the “preponderance of the evidence” standard than to meet the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The disparity in these two standards for the burden of proof explains why you can win a personal injury case even if a criminal court acquits the defendant for exactly the same conduct. OJ Simpson, for example, was acquitted of murder but held liable for wrongful death.
What Is a Prima Facie Case?
You have a prima facie case when you have submitted enough admissible evidence to meet your burden of proof, assuming that the defendant doesn’t submit any evidence. A prima facie case switches the burden of proof from you to the defendant. Now it is the defendant’s burden to prove you wrong using the applicable burden of proof.
Examples of Evidence That Might Meet the Applicable Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
Following are some examples of evidence that you can use in a personal injury case. All of the following evidence must comply with the Missouri Evidence Code.
- Medical records that detail the nature and extent of your injuries or your medical expenses;
- Expert testimony that shows how an accident happened or the full extent of your lost earnings;
- A commercial truck’s event data recorder to show speed and braking times immediately prior to an accident;
- Eyewitness testimony of the accident (out-of-court statements are highly restricted);
- Photographs and CCTV records;
- Employment records that document your lost income;
- An independent medical examination of your injuries, usually demanded by the opposing party; and
- Documents such as cell phone records.
You can use almost anything as evidence if it is relevant. Keep in mind that you normally cannot use a police report in court. Instead, you must call the police officer as a witness and have them testify. However, police reports are useful tools in settlement negotiations because they address the probable testimony of a potential witness.
Let an Experienced St. Louis Personal Injury Lawyer Build Your Case for You
Representing yourself in a sizable personal injury claim is not a good idea, either in court or during settlement negotiations. A seasoned St. Louis personal injury lawyer should have years of experience building cases based on admissible evidence and the appropriate burden of proof. Set up a free initial consultation to find out more.