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What Is The Burden Of Proof And Why Does It Matter?

Personal injury claims are civil actions brought against an individual, organisation or public authority. A very high number of personal injury claims are settled out of court between the parties and their insurance companies1.

However, when settlement talks are unsuccessful a personal injury claim in respect of liability then the claim may not proceed further. However where prospects of success are still deemed to be above 51% then steps may be taken to proceed to a Trial. In assessing the merits of your claim at the outset and throughout its life, your solicitor will have in mind whether the claim would be successful at trial on the balance of probabilities.

This means that, on consideration of all the factual, witness and expert evidence, the Judge or Master must be satisfied that it is more likely than not that your version of events is the correct one and that the defendant acted negligently or breached their statutory duty towards you, causing you injury.

This is called the burden of proof, and your solicitor will assess before your case goes to trial whether on the evidence available they consider that the burden of proof will be satisfied. The final decision is of course for the Judge presiding over your case.

What if the Defendant is acquitted in a criminal trial?

In some circumstances, such as those arising from a road traffic accident, as well as being sued in civil law for your personal injury the defendant might also be charged with a criminal offence.

For example, if a defendant crashed their car into a pedestrian, that pedestrian may have grounds for a civil action for personal injury. The defendant had a duty to the pedestrian as a road user. However, if the defendant’s actions were serious enough, they might also be prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in a criminal trial for careless or dangerous driving.

Sometimes the defendant is acquitted in a criminal trial. This does not mean that you will automatically be unsuccessful in a civil personal injury claim. This is because criminal proceedings demand a higher standard of proof. If you are found guilty of a criminal offence you face worse sanctions, possibly including prison time. In order to protect defendants’ right to liberty, the jury will be directed to consider whether the defendant is guilty of the offence beyond all reasonable doubt. This is commonly expressed as the jury has to be absolutely sure that the defendant is guilty of all the elements of the offence they are charged with.

Sometimes, the jury cannot be sure on the evidence they have whether the defendant is guilty of a criminal offence. However, it is a lower standard of proof to consider whether the defendant is more likely than not to have breached their civil duties to you. Therefore it is quite possible that a defendant might be acquitted of a criminal offence, but found liable on the civil standard of proof for your injuries arising from the same accident.

In conclusion, your solicitor will be interested in any criminal trial arising from the events leading to your personal injury. This is because it can give an indication as to the evidence that might be available. However, they will continue to assess this evidence on the balance of probabilities in the civil process, not on the higher burden of proof required for a criminal conviction.

If you are in need of specialist legal advice about your personal injury claim, speak to our highly experienced Personal Injury experts on 0808 271 9413 who will be able to assist. Alternatively, you can request a call back or get in touch online.



Further Reading Eloise Carey