Understanding the Burden of Proof in Personal Injury Cases

By Greg Kohn

When you sue someone for causing harm to you through negligence, you will have to prove all four of the required elements for holding them liable for your injuries. Each element requires credible (believable) evidence.

The Elements of Liability

A New Jersey personal injury attorney can handle your lawsuit. Your lawyer can also help you understand the burden of proof in injury cases.

The First Element of Liability in a Personal Injury Negligence Case: Duty of Care

Before you can sue someone for a personal injury, you must show that the defendant owed you a legal duty of care. For example, you cannot sue a random doctor for failing to diagnose your disease if you are not a patient of that doctor. Your own physician has a duty to deliver healthcare services that meet the standard for medical care for his patients, but not for the entire world.

Let’s use a car accident injury claim to demonstrate the four elements of liability. Everyone who operates a motor vehicle on public roads has an obligation to drive with caution and obey the traffic laws. 

The Second Element of Liability in a Personal Injury Negligence Case: Breach of Duty

Continuing with the car accident scenario, imagine that a drunk driver ran a red light because of his intoxication. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is not driving with caution or obeying the traffic laws. Violating the duty of care is negligence. 

The Third Element of Liability in a Personal Injury Negligence Case: Causation

The negligence must be the thing that caused the accident that harmed the plaintiff. Not every careless act is grounds for a lawsuit. Many people violate a legal duty of care on a daily basis, like driving one mile per hour over the speed limit, but they do not all end up getting sued.

If a person’s negligence does not cause harm to another person, the carelessness does not create liability. Think of this legal concept as “no harm, no foul.” 

When a person’s mistake does cause an accident, that fact pattern can satisfy this third requirement for establishing liability. In our drunk driving scenario, the driver slammed into another car when he ran the red light because of his intoxication. Those facts qualify for meeting the required causation element.

The Fourth Element of Liability in a Personal Injury Negligence Case: Quantifiable Damages

Most personal injury cases require that a person seeking compensation in the lawsuit have experienced measurable losses. Physical injuries satisfy this fourth element of liability. 

Generally, emotional distress by itself does not count as a quantifiable loss, but there are some exceptions to this general rule. Let’s say that one person in the car suffered a broken leg, and the other person in the car had no physical injuries but was distraught over being in a car crash. Typically, the person with the fracture will be able to make a personal injury claim, but not the person with no physical harm.

A New Jersey personal injury attorney can talk to you and determine whether you might have a winnable claim. The initial consultation is free, and there is no obligation. Call our office today to schedule your consultation. 

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.