The “Burden of Proof” in a California Personal Injury Case

The "burden of proof" in a California personal injury case is the degree to which the plaintiff must prove the truth of his or her allegations. 

California personal injury (tort) cases usually have one of two “burdens of proof”:

To help you better understand the “burden of proof” in a California personal injury case, our California personal injury lawyers discuss, below:

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1. What is a “preponderance of the evidence”?

In the majority of California personal injury cases, the plaintiff must prove his or her case by a “preponderance of the evidence.”[1]

This means it is more likely true than not true that what the plaintiff claim happened did in fact happen.[2]

Example: Evan sues Frank for medical bills and pain and suffering in a civil assault and battery case. Frank claims that it was Evan who started the fight and Frank was only defending himself from injury.
In order to win his case, Evan must convince the jury it is more likely than not that Frank's actions were wrongful. If the jury believes Frank -- or even if the jurors cannot decide -- Frank will not be held liable.

2. What is “clear and convincing evidence”?

Occasionally a civil case will require proof of an element by “clear and convincing” evidence.

For instance, in order to recover punitive damages in California, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.[3]

“Clear and convincing” is a higher standard than preponderance of the evidence, but not as high as beyond a reasonable doubt (the standard of proof in a California criminal case).[4]

It requires a finding of “high probability” as opposed to something simply being more likely than not.[5]

3. Does the burden of proof ever shift to the defendant?

Yes. In some civil cases, the defendant may have an “affirmative defense” to the claimed wrongful act.

In such a case, once the plaintiff makes out a “prima facie” case for liability, the burden will shift to the defendant to prove why his or her actions should be legally excused.

Example: Joe sues Paul for libel (written defamation) because Paul posted on his Facebook page that Joe is incompetent in his business. Paul asserts as an affirmative defense that his statements are true.
Once Joe sets forth facts that prove the elements required in a defamation case, the burden of proof then “shifts” to Paul to prove the truth of his statements.[6]

4. How do I know what burden of proof I have to meet?

Thorough legal research is the only way to know what standard of proof applies in any specific California personal injury case.

Plaintiffs may have more than one claim or legal basis under which they can recover damages in a California personal injury lawsuit.

Each claim or legal theory may have a different standard of proof.

Our California injury attorneys offer free consultations to help potential clients determine the best way to recover all the money to which they are entitled.

And we don't take a dime unless and until you win your case at trial or receive a settlement in your favor.

Have you suffered an injury in California? Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know was injured by someone else's negligence or recklessness in California, we invite you to contact our California injury attorneys for a free consultation to help you determine the compensation you may be entitled to.

Call us at (855) LAWFIRM to speak to a caring lawyer today.

We may also be able to help if you have suffered an injury in Nevada and need a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer.

Legal references:

  1. California Evidence Code § 115.
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 200.
  3. California Civil Code § 3294 CC.
  4. California Evidence Code 115, endnote 1; CACI 201.
  5. See, e.g., In re Angelia P. (1981) 28 Cal.3d 908.
  6. CACI 1720; Campanelli v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 572.

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