Using Circumstantial Evidence to Prove Your Personal Injury Case in Court

Without the benefit of smoking gun evidence, how can a plaintiff hope to prove negligence against a defendant (or multiple defendants) for something as tough as a car accident where a defendant left the scene of the collision and the injured party never saw the driver? The ultimate question is how can you succeed without direct proof? The answer is circumstantial evidence, which means indirect evidence presented at trial that allows inferences to be drawn to connect a set of facts to a conclusion. It is different from direct evidence, which supports the conclusion without the need for additional evidence and inferences. In order to prove negligence in a case it seems logical that the only way to come out on top is to draw a direct line between the injury victim and the negligent driver who caused the collision. Evidence exhibits would include direct testimony from witnesses, photographs of the damaged vehicles and a police report with both parties' names.  Except that finding such evidence is pretty difficult to do when there are no witnesses and because the driver left the scene, the investigating officer did not get the other driver's name. It is necessary to move past the Perry Mason notion requiring a dramatic smoking gun at the end of a trial to prove the case.  That just isn't how trial law works.  Often times, there is no smoking gun; rather there is a lengthy trail that leads to a logical conclusion based on a set of carefully documented facts.  Even if those facts are circumstantial, the point is the same. So how can a plaintiff prevail in court? Let's look at 2 bacterial infection cases to get an understanding of circumstantial evidence and how it can be used. Take for example the story of a young girl in Iowa.  The child, who was born in 2008, suffered from meningitis shortly after her birth.  The illness rendered the child severely disabled.  A lawsuit has been filed on her behalf against the makers of an infant baby formula.  The lawsuit claims that the powdered formula was tainted with the bacteria and caused the illness. The little girl has a twin brother, and the twin suffered no such illness.  In fact, the only thing that has been pointed out so far that was different between the care the girl twin received and her brother was the powdered formula. But then the case gets complicated. Testing on the can of formula used for the little girl's bottles from came up negative for the meningitis bacteria.  Tests also failed to reveal the bacteria in the kitchen of the family's home. So the case is sunk before it even begins, right? Not necessarily.  The fact is that the infection is incredibly tough for infants to get.  In fact, there is virtually no other way for a child to become infected.  And the onset of the illness corresponds with the timeline of ingesting the formula.  This case may very well be proven by the overwhelming circumstantial evidence.  The maker of the infant formula will likely be decided against, and the child's care will become their burden to bear. On dramatic television programs, some Hail Mary lab test pass always seems to come through at just the precise moment revealing the precise evidence needed to nail collective defendants to the wall.  While this makes for good ratings, it is not the reality most personal injury lawyers work with.  Another case involving a bacterial infection faces the same plight.  Again, twin babies were treated in the same hospital, and one infant suffered an infection leaving him permanently disabled.  The twin boy suffered a brain infection that left him stricken with cerebral palsy and unable to eat, crawl, walk, or sit on his own.  He is now three years old.  At the beginning of the investigation, no direct link could be tied to a single source for the bacteria.  The Bacillus cereus the baby suffered is exceedingly rare and normally associated with food poisoning.  Stunned investigators had no clue where the baby contracted the illness. Soon it was discovered that the manufacturer of alcohol wipes used in hospitals had been the subject of a huge recall.  The wipes had been contaminated with the same bacteria that made the small baby so ill. The hospital that treated the little boy and his twin brother discovered that the manufacturer in question had made the alcohol prep pads used in the nursery when the twins were patients.  The attorneys for the little boy now plan to fight the case in court based on circumstantial evidence.  Even without direct proof, the attorneys are banking on the facts in the case to be enough to prove that the infection came from the tainted alcohol wipes. So in the initial example with the phantom driver that left the scene of the accident, circumstantial evidence could be that the injury victim saw that the car was a black Toyota even though the victim did not see the driver. A few minutes later, a male driving a black Toyota was pulled over just 4 miles from the scene of the accident, there was damage to the vehicle suggesting it was involved in an accident, and the driver had the smell of alcohol on his breath. All of that evidence presented above regarding the driver of the black Toyota would be circumstantial evidence - they are facts that allow a jury to conclude that the driver of the black Toyota that was pulled over is the same driver of the black Toyota that caused the plaintiff's injuries in the motor vehicle accident. That would be a reasonable conclusion based on the circumstantial evidence presented. Unraveling the layers of a personal injury case requires experience and expert advice.  Seek the help of a qualified personal injury lawyer.  Have you or a loved one suffered personal injury?  Contact the Kansas City personal injury lawyers at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys at 888-348-2616 for information about a free initial consultation.  You can also access more information by downloading the free resource guide 10 Essential Steps You Must Take to Protect Your Injury Claim
James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.