Burden of Proof in Personal Injury Cases

What is the Burden of Proof For Negligence?

Judges GavelThe burden of proof is the degree to which a particular party must prove their case in order to win at trial. In a negligence case, the aggrieved party (plaintiff) bears the burden of proof to show each element of their cause of action by a preponderance of the evidence. This burden of proof applies to all personal injury claims in the state of Texas.

What Does a Preponderance of the Evidence Mean?

A preponderance of the evidence means the greater weight and degree of credible evidence.  Another way to say it is that it is more likely than not. If the jury finds that a particular fact is more likely than not to be true, then they must find that it is true. They do not have to be certain about it or sure. They can and must consider all of the evidence such as evidence of seat belt use in a car accident or video surveillance of the wreck.

This standard is kind of like a 51% rule. If you think there is a  51% chance it’s true, then you find that it is true. The standard is often described using the example of the scales of justice. If you imagine all of one side’s evidence for a fact on one side and all of the other side’s evidence against a fact in the other, if the scales tip in favor of the fact ever so slightly, then it is true.

Interestingly, this “majority wins” rule of 50% or more does not apply when it comes to individual jurors’ opinions. For a plaintiff to recover for negligence in a Texas District Court, 10 out of 12 jurors must agree on each element of the claim. Having a lesser majority of jurors (whether it be 7 out of 12, 8 out of 12, or 9 out of 12), is still a loss to the plaintiff. In County Courts, where only 6-member juries are used, the verdict must be unanimous. Five out of six jurors for the plaintiff is still a win for the defendant in a County Court at Law.

What is the Burden of Proof For Punitive Damages in Texas?

In order to recover punitive damages, you must prove your case by ‘clear and convincing evidence.’  Clear and convincing evidence means ‘the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established.’ Due to tort reform changes in the law, the burden of proof for punitive damages (also known as exemplary damages) is much higher than that of ordinary negligence.

In addition to a higher burden of proof standard, punitive damages require a unanimous jury.  This means that if a single juror does not have a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations made by the plaintiff justifying punitive damages, then that single juror prevents the other 11 jurors from awarding punitive damages. Getting all twelve jurors to agree to award punitive damages on a clear and convincing evidence standard is extremely difficult.