If you have been injured in an accident caused by another person’s negligence or wrongdoing, you may be entitled to compensation by filing a personal injury claim. However, if the at-fault party is also facing criminal charges for their actions, it can impact your personal injury case in important ways.
This article will explain how a criminal case can affect your personal injury claim and what you need to know.
Understanding the Difference: Criminal Case vs Civil Case
When an injury accident occurs due to the actions or negligence of another person, there are often both criminal and civil implications. While the two types of cases involve the same incident, there are important differences between criminal and civil law.
A criminal case is brought by the state or federal government against an individual or entity. The aim is to determine if a crime has been committed and impose punishment. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged criminal offense.
In contrast, a civil case is initiated by a private party (the plaintiff) against another party (the defendant). Civil cases involve disputes between individuals or organizations regarding violating a private legal right. The plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable for damages. This is a much lower burden of proof compared to a criminal case.
The Intersection of Civil and Criminal Matters
While civil and criminal cases are distinct, certain incidents are not uncommon to trigger both types of legal action.
For example, a car accident involving a drunk driver may lead to criminal charges like driving under the influence (DUI) and a civil claim for damages by anyone injured in the crash.
Likewise, an assault by one person on another could warrant criminal prosecution of the perpetrator and a civil lawsuit by the victim seeking compensation.
When an accident or injury occurs due to a party’s clear negligence or criminal intent, the victim can file a personal injury claim regardless of whether criminal charges are pursued. However, the evidence and outcomes in one type of case can impact the other.
What Constitutes a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury claim is a civil case filed in civil court seeking compensation for your losses from the at-fault party. Common grounds for personal injury lawsuits include:
- Motor vehicle accidents: When the negligent operation of a car, truck, or motorcycle causes injury or property damage. This includes drunk driving accidents where the driver was intoxicated.
- Premises liability: When an unsafe condition on someone’s property causes an injury.
- Defective products: When a flawed or hazardous product harms the user.
- Medical malpractice: When substandard medical treatment causes injury to a patient.
- Assault and battery: When one person physically harms another, either intentionally or recklessly.
The harm suffered can include physical injuries, financial losses, emotional distress, or wrongful death of a family member. An experienced personal injury attorney can advise if you have grounds to file a claim.
How Does a Criminal Charge Impact a Personal Injury Case?
If the at-fault party in an accident faces criminal charges, it can potentially help the injured victim in a civil injury lawsuit, but it also carries some risks.
Some key ways a criminal case may influence a related personal injury claim include:
- Admission of guilt: A guilty plea in criminal court serves as an admission that can establish liability in a civil case.
- Evidence collection: Investigation and evidence gathering by law enforcement, such as determining whether the at-fault driver was intoxicated, can be used to prove negligence.
- Increased likelihood of settlement: Having a pending or resolved criminal case strengthens the injury claim and may prompt a settlement.
- Higher compensation: A criminal conviction can be used to justify higher damages like punitive damages.
- Delays: The personal injury case may be postponed until the criminal case concludes.
- Defendant focuses on criminal cases: The defendant may devote more legal resources to the criminal prosecution.
- Plea bargains and reduced charges: Resolving the criminal case may result in fewer charges and penalties, which could weaken the civil injury case.
The Role of Negligence in Civil Claims
The plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant was legally negligent to have a valid personal injury claim. This means failing to act with reasonable care, leading to foreseeable harm.
Some examples of negligent actions that could support a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Drunk driving or driving while intoxicated
- Speeding or running a red light
- Distracted driving, like texting while operating a vehicle
- Failure to properly maintain vehicles or property
- Poor security at a business location
- Inadequate product testing or warning labels on dangerous items
- Medical professionals failing to meet the standard of care.
The injured party does not need to prove intent or malice on the defendant’s part conclusively. Demonstrating legally recognizable negligence through a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient to establish liability in a civil personal injury case.
Role of the Defendant in Criminal and Civil Cases
The defendant plays a very different role with varying rights and obligations in criminal versus civil litigation.
In a criminal trial, the defendant is presumed innocent. The prosecution must prove every element of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant has the right to avoid self-incrimination under the 5th Amendment.
However, in a civil case, the defendant generally does not have a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. There is also a lower burden of proof requiring a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. While the defendant is not presumed innocent, the plaintiff still carries the burden of demonstrating liability.
These differing standards mean a defendant could be found liable and forced to pay damages in a personal injury lawsuit even if they are acquitted on criminal charges related to the same incident.
How Criminal Trial Proceedings Affect Injury Claims
The evidence and findings in a defendant’s criminal trial can substantially impact any parallel personal injury claim by the victim.
If the defendant is convicted, it will be very difficult for them to dispute liability in the civil case. However, being acquitted of criminal charges does not automatically defeat a personal injury claim since the standard of proof is much lower.
Evidence presented in the criminal trial can often be used to establish liability and damages in an injury case. This may include medical records, toxicology results, crash reconstruction analysis, eyewitness testimony, video evidence, and expert witness opinions.
However, certain evidence, such as a defendant’s statements made during the criminal investigation, may be inadmissible under the rules of evidence in the civil case. An experienced personal injury attorney can determine how to incorporate relevant evidence from the criminal proceedings properly.
The timing of the civil injury lawsuit relative to a pending or completed criminal case is also a key strategic decision. These factors should be carefully weighed when victims pursue compensation through criminal and civil legal channels.
Conclusion with Key Takeaways
- A criminal case seeks to punish crimes, while a civil case aims to compensate victims for their losses.
- The same incident, like a car accident involving a drunk driver, may result in both criminal charges and a personal injury claim.
- Criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher standard than the preponderance of the evidence in civil lawsuits.
- Defendants have more legal protections in criminal trials, making proving they committed a crime harder than negligently caused damages.
- Criminal convictions can aid personal injury lawsuits, yet acquittals do not guarantee defeating civil liability.
- Evidence and outcomes from the criminal case can significantly impact the personal injury claim resolution, so strategic coordination is key.
- An experienced personal injury lawyer can guide you if you suffered harm due to another party’s negligence or criminal actions. They can help protect your right to fair compensation through the complex legal process.
While a criminal case can influence a personal injury claim, separate legal processes remain. Thoughtful navigation is needed to handle both cases strategically. Contact our office to discuss your rights and options if you have been injured and the at-fault party is also facing criminal charges. Our legal team has extensive experience with these complex situations.