When you bring a personal injury claim against someone who has harmed you, you are going to have to prove that you have the right to recover compensation for your injuries. Sometimes, it's easy. Everyone involved in the case knows just who was responsible, the insurance company admits that its insured was at fault, and a satisfactory injury settlement becomes a strong possibility.
Other times, though, a case finds its way to court -- often because liability is a murky issue or because no reasonable settlement could be reached. When a case gets to court, there are a number of things that a plaintiff has to do in order to prove his or her case. You need to first convince a jury that the defendant should be held liable. Any damages award will come only after such a finding.
The Plaintiff's Burden in a Personal Injury Claim
When a personal injury case goes to court, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove the required elements of the claim being alleged. The defendant doesn't usually have to prove anything at all.
In a civil court case, the burden the plaintiff has is not as stringent as the burden a prosecutor has in a criminal case. A plaintiff who is suing a defendant doesn't have to prove that the defendant did what is asserted beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, a plaintiff usually must prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant did what is being asserted. So, what exactly does this mean? It means the plaintiff has to show that more likely than not or most likely the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
What Does a Plaintiff Have to Prove?
So, what does the plaintiff have to prove? It depends on the specific case. Usually, though, there are four essential elements of a personal injury claim where negligence is being alleged. These are:
that the defendant owed some kind of duty to the plaintiff
that the duty was breached
that the breach led to harm, and
that injuries occurred for which damages can be paid.
How to Gather Evidence to Build a Strong Case
A plaintiff who wants to prove his or her case needs to gather as much evidence as possible, related to the four above elements. Some examples of evidence that may be used to build the strongest possible personal injury case include:
Photographs from the scene of the accident. This is absolutely essential in car accident cases. The damage to the vehicles, the location of the road debris, and the street conditions at the time of the accident should be photographed at the scene. Of course, this is also important for some other kinds of accidents too.
Police reports of the accident or action surrounding the injury. After a car accident, a police report can be invaluable evidence if the police officer finds that the accident was caused by some specific negligent act, like failure to yield or running a red light. A police report is also essential in intentional torts cases, such as if you sue someone in a civil suit for assault and battery.
Eyewitness statements. Whenever an accident happens, you should get the names of witnesses who saw events unfold. Make sure you have not only their names, but also their contact information and some idea of what they actually saw so you will know who should make a good witness.
Medical records. The medical records you have should date back to right after the injury. Any delay will give the defendant ammunition to argue that the injuries weren't legitimate, or weren’t really caused by the accident.
Proof of missed work. This is important because lost wages could make up a significant portion of your damages.
A daily journal of how your injuries have affected you. Pain and suffering damages can be significant in a personal injury case, and the more proof of how your injuries and your medical treatment have affected you, the better. Writing down what you are experiencing is one of the best ways to convey the real day-to-day impact of your injuries.