How do you know whether a claim is true or not? How do you prove a claim? How do you disprove a claim? These are all deep philosophical questions. They are also practical questions that arise in personal injury lawsuits. The Illinois Rules of Evidence, and the Illinois courts’ interpretation thereof, help to answer these questions.
Facts That the Injury Victim Must Prove To Win
Most personal injury claims are based on negligence, which is a legal term that essentially means carelessness. To win a negligence claim, the victim must use admissible evidence to prove, on a “more likely than not” basis, that:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of reasonable care;
- The defendant breached their duty of care;
- The victim suffered a physical injury; and
- The defendant’s breach of duty was the factual and proximate cause of the victim’s injury.
Other types of claims, such as product liability claims and intentional tort claims, require the victim to prove a different set of facts.
Types of Evidence
Following is a general listing of the types of evidence that injury victims most commonly use in personal injury trials and settlement negotiations.
“Physical evidence” means something tangible. In a car accident case, for example, the damaged vehicles constitute tangible evidence. Auto parts also may constitute evidence and are often more convenient to bring into court. In other types of personal injury cases, defective equipment might be useful. Even bodily injury constitutes a form of physical evidence.
There are two main forms of physical evidence: still photographs and video footage. These days, most photographic evidence is digital. Still, paper photographs are admissible in court. CCTV footage of an accident is particularly useful.
Under-oath testimony followed by cross-examination from the opposing party is typically key evidence. There are two main types of testimonial evidence, which are called eyewitness testimony and expert witness testimony.
- An eyewitness testifies as to what they personally experienced, but does not offer opinions. They might testify, for example, that the defendant was the driver of a car that crashed.
- An expert offers professional opinions in their field of expertise. They might testify, for example, that the plaintiff will never regain normal use of their left arm.
A witness can face criminal charges for offering knowingly false testimony.
Medical evidence includes medical records, X-rays, medical bills, and more. Testimony from a doctor is better classified as testimonial evidence. Medical evidence is highly credible, with the possible exception of medical malpractice claims where a doctor might have an incentive to falsify records.
An example of circumstantial evidence might include a cell phone record showing you sent a text message at the exact minute that your car crash occurred. This might indicate distracted driving. Cell phone records might also reveal you to be near the location of an accident at the time it occurred, if that issue is in dispute. Many other forms of evidence qualify as circumstantial evidence.
Police Reports and Citations
The police usually take a report after an auto accident, and they might also do so after another type of accident, such as a slip and fall accident. The apprpriate official might also issue a DUI citation, a safety citation, or a traffic ticket. Surprisingly, such evidence is not admissible in court because it is considered hearsay.
Insurance companies, however, typically require this evidence in settlement negotiations. In court, you would simply call as a witness the officer who wrote the report or issued the citation. The purpose of this requirement is to allow the opposing party to cross-examine the witness.
The Illinois Rules of Evidence
The Illinois Rules of Evidence are based largely on common sense principles. All evidence must be relevant, for example. Some evidence principles are counterintuitive, however. If you sue someone for negligence, for example, you cannot use subsequent remedial measures against them in court. That means that you cannot use their repair of a dangerous condition after your claim arose as evidence that the condition was dangerous in the first place.
For example, suppose you fell down the defendant’s stairs. After the accident, the defendant installed a railing in the stairwell. You cannot use the installation against the defendant in court, although you can use the fact that there was no railing there to begin with.
The reason behind this rule is that if you could use the fact of the repair against the defendant, their lawyer would advise them not to repair the condition. As a consequence, someone else might fall down the stairs. The main purpose of personal injury law is not to compenste people for injuries, but to prevent people from getting injured in the first place.
A Naperville Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Gather Admissible Evidence
Any experienced Naperville personal injury lawyer should know the Illinois Rules of Evidence by heart. They should also have experience gathering evidence and presenting it in a persuasive fashion. Schedule a free initial consultation with a personal injury attorney near you to learn more.