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Evidentiary Standards and Burdens of Proof in New York

February 14, 2019 in

The structure of the New York civil justice system places the burden of proof in a personal injury case on the victim, or plaintiff. This means it is the plaintiff’s burden – or his or her attorney’s – to prove to a judge or jury that the defendant was at fault for the accident or injuries. Achieving the burden of proof takes fulfilling New York’s current evidentiary standard: a preponderance of the evidence.

What Does Preponderance of the Evidence Mean?

Most people have heard of the standard of evidence that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the evidentiary standard in criminal cases. In a criminal case, a jury must view the defendant as innocent until proven guilty. It is then the prosecutor’s job to prove the defendant’s guilt for a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high evidentiary standard with a great amount of weight, since the defendant’s freedom and life are on the line. A jury should not convict a defendant of a crime unless they are certain beyond a reasonable doubt of his or her guilt.

In a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury claim, the New York courts abide by a different evidentiary standard. Instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, an accident victim’s attorney must establish that the defendant is more likely than not at fault for the damages in question, based on a preponderance of the evidence. This is a much lower burden of proof. Preponderance of the evidence means the facts the plaintiff has proven that the defendants are more likely than not at fault.

What Is a Plaintiff’s Burden of Proof During a Civil Case?

The burden of proof refers to which party – either the defendant or the plaintiff – has the responsibility of showing evidence and prevailing with the claim. In most cases, the party that brought the claim will bear the burden of proof in a lawsuit. In a civil case in New York, the plaintiff’s burden is typically to prove the defendant’s fault for the accident and injuries in question. Most accident victims hire attorneys to handle this burden of proof on their behalf. Proving a case requires four main elements in a claim based on negligence.

  1. A duty of care existed at the time of the accident. The defendant must have owed the plaintiff some duty of care at the time, such as the duty a doctor owes his or her patients, or a property owner’s duty to maintain a premises in a reasonably safe condition.
  2. The defendant breached his or her duty of care to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s side must demonstrate, through a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant was negligent in fulfilling his or her duties of care. Negligence can be an act or omission that falls short of accepted standards of conduct.
  3. The defendant’s actions caused the injuries. The burden of proof also requires a plaintiff to show a causal link between the defendant’s negligence and the injuries in question.
  4. The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the accident.  It is plaintiff’s burden to produce evidence of damages arising from the incident, such as physical injuries, pain and suffering, medical costs, property damage, lost wages, or the death of a loved one.

To properly evaluate and produce evidence that satisfies the burden of proof for a civil claim in New York, you should consult a personal injury attorney. Hiring a lawyer to represent you, allows you to concentrate on healing, while he/she navigates the litigation including the prosecution of the case and claim negotiations.