What Is Burden of Proof?

As the plaintiff in a personal injury case, you have the burden of proving your claim. You cannot simply say the defendant is responsible for your injuries. Instead, you must present sufficient evidence to prove the legal elements involved in your case. 

The burden of proof can significantly impact your case because it dictates the standard you must satisfy to win.

Different Burdens of Proof

Different Burdens of Proof

There are different burdens of proof for different types of cases, as described below:

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof. It is used in criminal cases to secure a conviction. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt means that there is no other reasonable explanation than the defendant committed the crime for which they have been charged, based on the evidence presented at trial.

The prosecutor bears the burden of proof. While civil cases do not use this standard, it is helpful to understand it because it establishes the highest burden of proof. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt cannot be quantified. However, the preponderance of the evidence, the burden of proof used in civil cases, can be quantified as being more than 50% certain. 

Understanding this burden of proof can also explain why two cases based on the same facts can have different outcomes. 

For example, in a drunk driving case, the prosecution may not be able to meet the burden of proof to secure a conviction. However, in a civil case involving a DUI accident, it may be possible to show that the driver was responsible for the crash based on the preponderance of the evidence. 

Clear and Convincing Evidence 

The next highest burden of proof is clear and convincing evidence. In Illinois, punitive damages are only awarded in civil cases if the plaintiff can show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s conduct was with “evil motive” or with a “reckless and outrageous indifference” to the rights and safety of others.

Illinois law defines clear and convincing evidence as a degree of proof that will produce a high degree of certainty regarding the truth of the asserted allegations. This burden is higher than the preponderance of the evidence.

Preponderance of the Evidence 

The preponderance of the evidence is the standard used in most personal injury cases. It means that the facts are more likely than not as the plaintiff alleges. 

Proving Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

Most personal injury cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. In general terms, negligence is a party’s failure to act reasonably in a specific situation, which causes someone else to suffer injuries. 

To prove a case based on negligence, you must establish all four of the following legal elements by a preponderance of the evidence. 

Duty of Care

Duty is the defendant’s obligation to behave in a certain manner. Generally, this is the defendant’s duty to use ordinary care

However, duty can be based on different factors, such as:

  • Law – Duty can be established by a specific statute, regulation, or rule. 
  • Relationship between the parties – Sometimes duty is based on the relationship between the parties. For example, a doctor has a duty to provide medical care equal to the standard of care of a reasonable doctor in the same area. Property owners owe certain duties to visitors on their property. 
  • Reasonable personal standard of care – Absent another specific duty, courts apply the reasonable person standard of care. Under this standard, a person must use the same level of care that a reasonably prudent person would use under similar circumstances. 

An experienced personal injury lawyer can explain the legal duty that applies in your particular situation. 

Breach of Duty 

The next legal element you must establish is that the defendant breached the applicable duty of care. A breach of duty occurs when a person fails to uphold their legal duty. This could be by doing something or failing to do something. 

For example, in a case involving an injury that occurs while on someone else’s property, you might show that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to fix a hazard on their premises that led to a visitor’s injury. 

Courts may consider whether the risk of harm to the accident victim was reasonably foreseeable and the defendant failed to take steps to avoid harming the plaintiff. They can also consider whether there were alternatives that could have avoided the harm and the financial impact of using such alternatives. 


The next element you must prove is causation. You must be able to link the defendant’s breach of duty and the injuries the victim suffered. The victim simply suffering an injury is not enough. 

Causation may be established by evidence, such as medical records, photos or videos of the accident scene, or expert witness testimony, as a few examples. 


Finally, you must show you suffered damages because of the accident. This might include economic damages, such as lost income, medical bills, and out-of-pocket expenses. You may have also sustained non-economic damages, like pain and suffering and reduced quality of life.

A Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Prove Your Case

If you were injured in an accident in Chicago, IL, consider consulting an experienced attorney regarding your options. You need time to focus on your health. A Chicago personal injury attorney can help you meet your burden of proof and handle all aspects of your claim. Call the Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers at (312) 929-2884 to schedule a free consultation