The process of pursuing a South Florida personal injury lawsuit can seem convoluted. If your injuries are serious, you really should be working with a dedicated personal injury attorney to help guide you through the steps and ensure you aren’t being taken advantage of by other stakeholders. In any case, having a base knowledge of the legal jargon you’re likely to encounter is important. One phrase you may hear frequently is “burden of proof.”
What is a Proof Burden?
The burden of proof is, at its core, a responsibility. It refers to the legal requirement that determines the viability of a claim based on the factual evidence produced.
A proof burden is indicative of both production AND persuasion. In other words, it identifies who bears the greater responsibility to produce the evidence, as well as the minimum standard one must meet in order for the court to consider a fact (or set of facts) to be legally proven. The difficulty of one’s proof burden depends on the type of case.
In criminal defense cases, the prosecution must prove their allegations of a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is recognized as the most stringent proof burden in the legal system. The judge or jury must be convinced there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence at trial. The intention is for jurors to be virtually certain of the defendant’s guilt before rendering a guilty verdict.
In South Florida personal injury cases (handled in civil court), the plaintiff, or person who experienced the harm at the hands of the other, bears the proof burden. That means they, rather than prosecutors, must establish the truth of their claims, and they must do so by a preponderance of the evidence standard. This requires that the court find there is a greater than 50 percent chance the plaintiff’s claim is true. In tort matters (like injury lawsuits), prevailing will compel the defendant to pay fair compensation.
Note that in personal injury cases, the defendant may be different than the party who actually pays. For example, let’s say you’re seriously injured in a West Palm Beach car accident after another driver ran a red light. Your injuries meet the legal criteria for allowing you to step outside Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system, and you file a claim for damages (financial compensation) against the other driver. The other driver is the defendant in the case. However, it will most likely be his/her insurer that ultimately pays the damages if you meet your proof burden.
In Florida, defendants in tort cases can challenge a plaintiff’s claim by asserting comparative fault. Simply put, this is when the defense argues that the plaintiff is at least partially responsible for the events that led to his/her own injuries. The plaintiff’s alleged negligence is weighed against that of the defendant. For comparative fault, it is the defense that bears the proof burden.
Florida is a pure comparative fault state. F.S. 768.81 holds that one can be 99 percent liable for his/her own injuries and still collect damages on the remaining 1 percent from another at-fault party. However, that isn’t an ideal scenario for a plaintiff because the damage award (amount of money) you receive will be proportionately reduced by the percentage of comparative fault.
For example, if your total damages are calculated at $75,000 but the court finds you 40 percent comparatively negligent, you could only receive a maximum of $45,000.
Although the defense bears the proof burden for comparative fault, your injury lawyer can help you work to successfully challenge these assertions.
How Do I Meet the Burden of Proof in My South Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit?
The proof burden can be established in a variety of ways in personal injury litigation. Examples include:
- Doctors’ or therapists’ notes.
- Medical records.
- Mechanic reports.
- Pictures taken at the scene of the accident, fall, injury, etc.
- Security camera footage.
- Witness testimony (including expert witnesses).
- Psychological evaluations.
Your lawyer will conduct an investigation, gather all relevant evidence, and work to show the links in the chain of causation. In negligence cases, we must show the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, that they breached that duty and the result was the plaintiff’s injuries.
If you’re considering filing a personal injury lawsuit in South Florida, we can help gather and present all relevant evidence to help you meet your burden of proof.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Preponderance of the evidence, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
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How Will a West Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Evaluate My Case? April 7, 2022, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyer Blog