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“Definite Proof” and the Appropriate Evidentiary Standard

August 18, 2022

Maryland’s second highest court recently issued a decision that considered whether to apply a preponderance of the evidence standard or clear and convincing standard to the “definite proof” standard provided by statute.

In UPS et al. v. Strothers, 253 Md. App 708 (2022), the plaintiff sustained a hernia injury while using a power jack during the course of his employment. Following the injury, Plaintiff presented at a general hospital and reported a history of hernias and related surgeries, stating he had two prior hernias. Subsequently, Plaintiff scheduled a surgery for the hernia suffered in the accident. Defendants contested the injury and would not authorize the surgery or request that Plaintiff be evaluated by an independent physician. As a result, the surgery was cancelled. Plaintiff attempted several alternatives to surgery to treat his hernia. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful. As a result, Plaintiff scheduled and underwent a successful surgery of his hernia.

Following these events, the Workers’ Compensation Commission held a hearing on the contested issues of accidental injury and causal relationship of the hernia. The Commission found in favor of plaintiff and required the defendants to pay causally related medical expenses including the surgical repair of plaintiff’s hernia. Plaintiff on appeal contended the Commission erred in applying a preponderance of the evidence standard.  

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The court opined that the relevant statute did not expressly or implicitly equate definite proof with any standard of proof, and nor did the court find any statutory authority that specified that “definite proof” is a substitute for the clear and convincing standard. The court examined the origins of the statute as well as prior case law and noted there was no reference to any of the requirements as mandating a newer or stricter standard of proof. Rather, the court found that the term “definite proof” referred to the quality of evidence and did not constitute a standard of proof, nor did its inclusion in the statute impose a requirement to apply the heightened clear and convincing standard. The quality of evidence under the “definite proof” standard requires more than the unsupported testimony of people of no medical education as to any medical opinions.