The phrase “burden of proof” often comes up in TV shows and movies, but many still do not fully understand what it means or how it applies to personal injury claims. In short, the burden of proof is the legal standard you must meet to win your case.
In civil lawsuits, including personal injury claims, the burden of proof is referred to as a” preponderance of the evidence.” This is not the same burden of proof as criminal cases, which are decided beyond a reasonable doubt. A preponderance of the evidence is a much lower burden. The plaintiff has the burden of proof and must show that their claims are more likely than not true. To meet this burden, the plaintiff must produce evidence and arguments convincing the jury of their claims. Ultimately, the jury decides whether the plaintiff has met their burden. Defendants typically do not have a burden of proof unless they assert specific types of defenses.
For a private evaluation of your case free of charge, call our Illinois personal injury lawyers at the Rhatigan Law Offices at (312) 578-8502.
The Burden of Proof in Illinois Personal Injury Lawsuits
In a trial, certain parties to the case have the burden of proof. This burden represents the bar that must be met for a jury to determine the defendant’s liability. The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is a preponderance of the evidence. This is different from criminal cases, where the burden of proof requires the prosecutor to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden in criminal cases is arguably the highest in the legal system. The burden of proof in civil cases, the preponderance of the evidence, is much lower.
Plaintiffs in civil cases have the burden of proof, meaning they are tasked with proving their claims by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence involves convincing the jury that it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable for your injuries. This is not a terribly high burden, as you do not need to prove anything beyond any doubt.
Even though the burden of proof in a civil personal injury claim is arguably low, certain elements are still unpredictable. Since the jury has the final say, only they can decide whether you have met your burden. How a jury defines the concept of “more likely than not” might vary between jurors. As such, it is best to approach your case with as much evidence as possible to leave little room for doubt.
How to Meet the Burden of Proof in Your Illinois Personal Injury Case
Meeting the burden of proof in a personal injury might sound easy since you only have to prove it is more likely than not that the defendant caused your injuries. However, you must present sufficient evidence and arguments to convince the jury of your claims. Not only is the jury free to reject anything presented to them, but the defendant will be trying to undermine your claims and evidence at every turn.
Of course, you cannot meet your burden of proof without evidence. Evidence takes a variety of forms and might be found almost anywhere. In some cases, it is very easy to find strong evidence. In other cases, evidence is scarce. Even so, cases have been won based on only a few pieces of strong evidence.
Evidence might be physical items you can hold up to a jury. Physical evidence is often important in personal injury cases where a weapon or dangerous instrument is used. For example, if you are suing a neighbor who hit you with a baseball bat after a dispute, the bat would be an important piece of physical evidence.
Alternatively, evidence might be testimonial or derived from records and documentation. You might sue a restaurant after you slipped and fell in a spill. We might have other restaurant patrons from that night testify that they also saw the spill. We might also use business records from the restaurant showing that nobody was assigned to clean up spills, thus creating a risky environment.
Having evidence might not be enough to meet the burden of proof, especially if evidence is hard to find in your case. We must make strategic legal arguments to emphasize the strength of the evidence. Often, our arguments help explain to jurors why the evidence is important and what it all means.
For example, the jury might not make the connection between business records showing there was no custodial staff on duty to the uncleaned spill on the floor. Through legal arguments, we can explain that restaurants have a duty to make sure the premises are safe for patrons. If nobody cleaned up spills, patrons would be at risk of slipping and falling. The lack of personnel to clean up the spills breaches the defendant’s duty of care and safety.
Does the Defendant Have a Burden of Proof in Illinois Civil Claims
Typically, defendants do not have a burden of proof in personal injury cases. Only the plaintiff has the burden of proving their claims by a preponderance of the evidence. However, depending on how the defendant chooses to mount a defense, they might have to meet a specific burden of proof. Their burden applies only to their defense, which does not mean the plaintiff does not need to meet any burden. The plaintiff still must prove their claims by a preponderance of the evidence.
One defense tactic is to argue contributory negligence. Using this defense, defendants argue that the plaintiff caused or contributed to their own injuries, and the defendant should not be liable or be less liable. This usually means that defendants have the burden of proof for establishing the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.
Similarly, defendants asserting an affirmative defense might have a burden of proof. An affirmative defense often involves admitting that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries but arguing that there is another reason the defendant should not be held liable. Defendants have the burden of proving what that reason is. A common example is self-defense.
Contact Our Illinois Personal Injury Attorneys for Legal Assistance
To schedule a private review of your potential case free of charge, call our Chicago personal injury attorneys at the Rhatigan Law Offices at (312) 578-8502.