“Burden of Proof”

Posted Thursday, September 29, 2016 by Ed Harper

Burden of Proof

Two Auto Accidents causing overlapping and indivisible injuries “Burden of Proof” shifts to Defendants

Generally, the plaintiff (injured party) has the burden of proof to establish their injuries. Burden of Proof in Washington is defined as “When it is said that a party has the burden of proof on any proposition…you must be persuaded, considering all the evidence in the case, that the proposition…is more probably true than not true.” Washington Pattern Jury Instructions (WPI) 21.01.

This shifts when you’ve had two auto accidents: The burden of proof becomes the defendants’ responsibility, in which they determine which injuries they have caused and are accountable for.

In Cox v. Spangler, 141 Wn.2d 431 (2000) the court reaffirmed this to be the law in the State of Washington.

In this case, the plaintiff, Deborah Cox was injured initially in May 1993 in a rear-end collision. This collision was deemed to be the fault of a co-employee. Thus, Ms. Cox could not bring a claim against her fellow employee due to the limitations of RCW 51 – the Washington Worker’s Compensation statute. (You cannot sue your employer or fellow employee for their negligence for injuries sustained during the course and scope of your employment.)

Subsequently, she was injured a second time in November 1993 in another rear-end collision. The injuries were substantially similar, and were primarily neck, and low back injuries including a small herniation in her lower back.

The issue in Cox v. Spangler is whether Plaintiff Deborah Cox could recover against Defendant Spangler (November 1993 accident) for all of her injuries? Short answer – yes.

The court articulated their ruling based on the indivisibility of the injuries. Once a plaintiff has proven some damage from more than one accident, the burden has shifted.

If the defendant in the second accident could not specifically apportion which injuries they were responsible for, then they are responsible for all of the injuries.

Jury instruction given in Cox regarding apportioning damages – “If you find that the plaintiff was injured in the accident of May 19, 1993 and the accident of November 2, 1993, and that said accidents caused the plaintiff injury, then the burden of apportioning plaintiff’s injuries between the two accidents is upon the defendants. If you further find that plaintiff’s injuries are indivisible, then the defendants Spangler are responsible for the entire injury.”

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