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Are “Possible Causes” of an Injury Admissible?

Are “Possible Causes” of an Injury Admissible?

Posted on January 21st, 2019

Personal injury claims in Alabama impose a burden of proof on injured victims. This burden requires victims or their lawyers to show, with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that defendants caused their injuries. This standard of proof requires the lawyer to demonstrate that defendants are more likely than not responsible for causing the claimed injuries. Typically, a plaintiff’s attorney will hire a medical expert to testify on the matter. This standard also applies to defendants, generally barring them from making possible injury causes admissible as evidence.

Possible Causes of Injury

Complex claims do not always have clear or simple causes of injuries. A defendant may be able to dispute a claim by saying an unrelated event caused the patient’s damages, or that a patient had a preexisting condition that contributed to an injury or illness. These are possible causes of an injury.

Possible causes are a defendant’s guesswork, not items established as facts. Alabama judges generally will not permit a defendant to use a possible cause of the claimant’s injuries as a defense. Courts hold defendants to the same standards of proof as plaintiffs: that the alleged action or omission caused the injuries with a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

If a defendant’s version of events does not meet this threshold, the courts will not count the possible cause of injury as admissible evidence. The same is true for the plaintiff. A plaintiff cannot assert a defendant’s negligence on the basis of a possible cause of injury. Speculation or conjecture is not strong enough to prove liability. Instead, both parties and their attorneys must assert arguments that have the support of medical experts.

What Does Reasonable Degree of Medical Certainty Mean?

A plaintiff’s lawyer in a personal injury claim does not bear a duty to prove the defendant was negligent beyond a reasonable doubt. He or she must only establish that the defendant is more likely than not the cause of the claimed injuries. The burden in a civil case is to prove that the injuries likely would not have happened but for the actions of the defendant.

Furthermore, in a personal injury claim, a plaintiff’s lawyer only has to establish negligence within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The law does not require a victim to prove irrefutable negligence or causation. The burden of establishing negligence with a reasonable degree of medical certainty appears during the part of a case where attorneys will interview expert witnesses.

What Is an Expert Witness?

Expert witnesses are subject-matter specialists with education, knowledge, experience, and/or training in a subject relevant to the case. In a medical malpractice case, for example, expert witnesses are typically physicians or other medical practitioners with positions similar to that of the defendant. The question a lawyer will typically ask a medical expert as part of the claims process is, “Do you have an opinion you can give with a reasonable degree of medical certainty?”

The expert will then answer yes or no, and provide a reason why, if desired. The parties involved in the lawsuit may then use the medical expert’s opinion to either prove or disprove a claim. Many states make consulting with a medical expert a requirement to file a medical malpractice claim. The claimant may have to acquire the signature or statement of a medical expert’s affirmation of the merit of the claim, in a document called an affidavit of merit.

The affidavit of merit is an extra step that weeds out claims that do not have any grounds in medical fact. Alabama does not require an affidavit of merit to file. Medical experts can be important elements in a plaintiff’s case in Alabama. It may be critical to a case to have a qualified physician testify as to the medical certainty of the claimed negligence and injury causation. It is up to both parties to satisfy the standard of proof by going beyond only possible causes of injuries.

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