Burden of Proof

If you’ve watched a crime drama show or movie, you may have heard the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the burden of proof standard required in a criminal proceeding, and it’s probably the most widely known.

A different burden of proof standard applies in civil personal injury proceedings. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, a slip and fall, or some other type of personal injury accident, you may be able to recover compensation through a personal injury claim or lawsuit. 

It’s important to understand the applicable burden of proof for your case, whether or not it reaches a court of law. 

What Is a Burden of Proof?

What Is a Burden of Proof?

A burden of proof refers to which party in a court case must support their contentions with evidence, and to what degree. The burden of proof standard varies depending on the type of case, among other factors. The plaintiff (party filing the lawsuit) generally has the initial burden of proof, but it can shift to the defendant in some contexts.

The most difficult burden of proof standard to satisfy is in criminal cases. The prosecutor must establish the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means the prosecutor must present enough evidence of the defendant’s guilt that any reasonable person would accept that they are guilty.

What Is the Burden of Proof Standard in Personal Injury Cases?

Unlike criminal cases, civil cases require a less stringent burden of proof. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff usually must prove each element of a negligence claim “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This means they must present enough evidence to show that their claims are “more likely than not” true. 

Put another way, the plaintiff must demonstrate that there’s a 51% chance that their version of the claim is true. A mere 50% chance is not sufficient, because it must be more likely than not. 

Another burden of proof standard applies to personal injury cases in certain situations. This standard is called “clear and convincing evidence.” It is a tougher standard to meet than “by a preponderance of the evidence,” but easier than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For example, this standard might apply if you seek punitive damages for your case.

What Are The Elements of a Negligence Claim?

To recover compensation in a personal injury case, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent. Acting negligently means failing to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. 

To prove that a defendant was negligent, the plaintiff must establish the following four elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

Duty of Care

A duty of care is a legal obligation to satisfy a certain standard of care toward others or the public. Generally, we have a duty of care to act the way a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. For example, when driving a vehicle on the road, we have a duty to drive the way a reasonable person would in the same situation. 

Breach of Duty of Care

A personal injury claimant must prove that the defendant breached or violated their duty of care. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff can often prove this element if they show that the defendant failed to act reasonably. 


A personal injury plaintiff must show that the defendant was the actual and legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. To be the actual cause means that the accident would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s actions or inactions. To be the legal cause means that the plaintiff’s injuries were a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions.


Finally, a personal injury plaintiff must show that they suffered physical injuries or some other loss because of the defendant’s conduct. 

Who Has To Meet the Burden of Proof?

The plaintiff or person bringing a lawsuit has the burden of proof, at least initially. A defendant is not legally required to prove their version of events—the plaintiff is. Nonetheless, a defendant may present evidence that weakens or contradicts the plaintiff’s evidence during the case. 

There is an exception to this general rule. If the defendant asserts an affirmative defense, the burden of proof for that defense shifts to the defendant. An affirmative defense is one that lets the defendant avoid liability, even if the plaintiff could successfully prove negligence. 

If a defendant asserts an affirmative defense, they must prove the elements of that defense by a preponderance of the evidence.  

Contact an Experienced Lakewood Personal Injury Lawyer To Schedule a Free Consultation for Your Case

Handling a personal injury case—including its burden of proof—can be complicated. Our experienced Lakewood Matos Personal Injury Lawyers can help you fight for compensation and navigate the personal injury claim process. Reach out today at 720) 912 7274 for a free review of your case.