The legal term “burden of proof” constantly emerges in personal injury cases. But what exactly is “burden of proof,” and what does it mean for your case?
This important term is the cornerstone of most lawsuits. It often determines how they are approached and their outcomes. To anyone unfamiliar with the term, however, it may sound abstract.
An Illinois personal injury attorney can help you understand and meet your evidentiary burden.
Origins of the Term “Burden of Proof”
Recognizing the roots of the “burden of proof” is helpful before diving into its significance. Historically, the term has symbolized the importance of ensuring that justice remains balanced and fair. It recognizes that cases should be decided based on evidence rather than allegations.
In this way, the “burden of proof” is almost universally understood in legal circles as a principle of judicial fairness.
What Does “Burden of Proof” Mean?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the “burden of proof” is the necessity or duty to affirmatively prove a fact in dispute on an issue raised between the parties in a legal matter.
In simpler words, it refers to the responsibility a party has to prove or disprove a contention in court.
Personal injury law predominantly concerns the plaintiff – or the person who has been injured and filed a lawsuit. The burden of proof is on them to demonstrate, with evidence, that the defendant, or person allegedly responsible for their injuries, is liable for them.
Illinois has pattern jury instructions that educate jurors on the burden of proof in some instances.
Differentiating Standards of Proof
People often confuse “burden of proof” with “standards of proof.” The standard of proof is the amount of evidence necessary to prove an assertion or claim in court. There are two primary standards in criminal and civil cases.
In criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove the accused’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This standard implies that the evidence should leave no genuine doubts about the defendant’s guilt in the judge’s or jurors’ minds. It’s the highest standard of proof in the legal system.
In civil cases, like personal injury matters, the standard is a “preponderance of the evidence.” It might sound complicated, but it simply means the plaintiff must show that their claims are more likely true than not. Visualize a football field. If the evidence takes the plaintiff past the fifty-yard line, they have met their burden.
The Importance of the Burden of Proof
Establishing the burden of proof is essential in three main ways:
1. Upholding Justice and Fairness
The burden of proof is not a technicality. Instead, it ensures that the party making allegations proves their case. It safeguards individuals and entities from defending themselves against frivolous or baseless accusations, or losing cases based on accusations alone. It is similar to the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty.
2. Guiding Legal Strategies
Lawyers use the burden of proof as a guidepost. Knowing who bears the burden can shape case strategies. A personal injury lawyer, for example, may invest significant resources in gathering compelling evidence because they must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. In contrast, a defendant’s lawyer, aware of this burden, may focus on creating doubt around the plaintiff’s assertions.
3. Encouraging Settlement
Many personal injury cases, like those involving car accidents or medical malpractice, never reach the courtroom. Instead, they settle before trial. In light of the burden of proof, the strength or weakness of evidence can heavily influence settlement decisions.
When a plaintiff has compelling evidence, a defendant may opt for an out-of-court settlement to avoid an unfavorable verdict that could result in owing a significant amount.
Shifting the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
Although the plaintiff typically shoulders the initial burden in a personal injury lawsuit, there are scenarios where the burden shifts.
For example, suppose the plaintiff provides substantial evidence supporting their claims. In this case, the burden shifts to the defendant to present rebuttal evidence or arguments.
While this does not change the overarching burden or standard of proof, it does require the defendant to address – and potentially counter – the plaintiff’s assertions. This is the core of most legal fights.
An Illinois Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Meet Your Burden of Proof
The legal world is full of seemingly complex terms and procedures. Among them, “burden of proof” stands at the core of all cases. It symbolizes the principles of justice and fairness, and it is important to understand in your case.
If you have been injured and file a personal injury case, you cannot simply make allegations against the defendant. You must have evidence to support your story and your damages.
An experienced attorney can help you meet the burden of proof in your personal injury case. Schedule a free case evaluation today to learn more.