The Burden of Proof: What Is it? How Does It Affect My Personal Injury or Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

When a victim of negligence – whether due to a serious personal injury accident or medical malpractice – brings a lawsuit seeking compensation from those who caused him or her grievous harm, the victim (known as the “plaintiff” in the parlance of the courts) is obligated to prove that the negligence of each defendant was a proximate cause of all personal injuries claimed by the plaintiff.  It is not enough for an injured person simply to allege negligence in order for compensation to be paid.  Every single element of an injured victim’s claim – which vary, depending upon the circumstances through which the victim’s injuries came about – must be proven in accordance with certain standards in order for an injured victim to obtain compensation from those who have done him or her harm.  This requirement to prove all of the elements of a case in accordance with applicable legal standards is called the “burden of proof”, and applies to every personal injury and medical malpractice case brought under New York law.  If an injured victim does not meet his or her “burden of proof”, their case will be dismissed and no compensation will be awarded, no matter how serious the victim’s injuries may be.  It is also true that the “burden of proof”, in some instances during a personal injury or medical malpractice trial, is placed upon the defendant, such as when the defendant make a summary judgment motion asking the court to dismiss an injured victim’s personal injury or medical malpractice case.  In this article, we will explore the general concept of the “burden of proof” in medical malpractice and personal injury cases and how it is applied in practice.

WHAT IS THE BURDEN OF PROOF?  HOW IS IT MEASURED?  

In very simple terms, the “burden of proof” describes the legal standard of substantive evidence that must be produced in order for a personal injury or medical malpractice case – or, in some situations, a particular element of a case – to be successful.  The concept of the “burden of proof” encompasses both the substance of the evidence itself (i.e., the testimony, as well as documentary and physical evidence, and what it tends, in the aggregate, to demonstrate) as well as the level of scrutiny applied to evidence by the court deciding a case (i.e., the test of the sufficiency and definitiveness of the substantive evidence).  In order to meet the “burden of proof”, the party bearing the burden (who, in the context of a personal injury or medical malpractice case, is usually the plaintiff/victim) must produce evidence supporting each element of their claim, and that evidence must meet a particular standard of scrutiny by which the sufficiency of that supporting evidence is evaluated by the court.

In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must put forth evidence demonstrating that (i) the defendant medical providers departed from the standard of care, (ii) that this departure from the standard of care was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and (iii) that the plaintiff has suffered cognizable damages.  In a personal injury case, the plaintiff must put forth evidence demonstrating that (i) the defendant was negligent, (ii) the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and (iii) the plaintiff has suffered cognizable damages.  Putting forth this evidence is part of meeting the burden of proof in every single personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuit brought in New York.

In almost all aspects of personal injury and medical malpractice cases, the standard that the aforementioned substantive proof must meet is known as a “preponderance” of evidence. Under this “preponderance” of evidence standard, to meet the “burden of proof”, the plaintiff must generally show that its substantive evidence makes it “more likely than not” (i.e., it is more than 50% likely) that every element of its case is satisfied.  Certain elements of some personal injury or medical malpractice cases require a showing of “clear and convincing” evidence (i.e., that the likelihood is approximately 67% or greater) to satisfy the “burden of proof”.  In criminal cases, the “burden of proof” is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which means essentially that the party bearing the burden (the government, in the criminal context) must show that the likelihood of each element of a case having been satisfied is approximately 95% or greater (this stringent standard of proof does not apply in any personal injury or medical malpractice cases, but to criminal cases exclusively).

HOW DOES THE BURDEN OF PROOF AFFECT MY PERSONAL INJURY OR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CASE?

The simple answer is that every New York personal injury and medical malpractice case lives or dies by the “burden of proof”.  If the plaintiff cannot meet his or her “burden of proof” as to every element of their case, the case will not be successful and no compensation will be forthcoming.  Thus, meeting the “burden of proof” as to every element of your personal injury or medical malpractice case is ultimately the most important part of prosecuting your case.

Our team of skillful medical malpractice and personal injury lawyers knows how to investigate and prosecute cases to ensure that the “burden of proof” is met.  We put our heart, soul, and expansive skills and resources into our clients’ cases to make sure that they have the best possible chance of meeting their “burden of proof” and being successful in their pursuit of justice.  Contact us today at (718) 354-8000 to learn about the “burden of proof” in your case, and how we can help you meet it so that you can obtain the just compensation that you deserve if you have been injured due to negligence.