Many accidents and incidents involving personal injury are litigated solely through lawsuits, some involve criminal matters. The criminal law end of things might range from a police officer giving a ticket for a driving offense at the scene of an accident all the way to someone charged with criminal negligence or even manslaughter. Victims of such an incident rightly wonder what effect this has on their case.
To help answer your questions about the intersection of criminal and civil proceedings, here are five key things to know.
1. Citations Aren't the Defining Factor. Did a police officer issue a traffic citation after the accident? Did they decline to? Did they note — or not note — liability in their report? Whatever the case, this may not even be a factor in a personal injury lawsuit. Liability is not always obvious and can be misconstrued at the scene. You can provide evidence refuting it. The judge may even rule that certain evidence cannot be introduced during a civil case.
2. Civil Court Can Provide Justice. The police may not have enough evidence to bring a successful criminal case. Or they may not meet the higher burden of proof, such as a unanimous jury decision. You may be disheartened if the person responsible for your injuries is then acquitted of criminal charges. However, a personal injury case can still provide you with some closure and justice.
3. Your Case Could Affect Prosecutors. Most lawsuits happen after a criminal trial has concluded. However, what if prosecutors have not moved forward with charges? In fact, your civil case could sway their decision. The weight of your evidence and the success of your case could be the impetus they need to build a criminal case.
4. Civil Damages Are Broader. Criminal trials can result in the convicted person being ordered to pay restitution to you. However, restitution is limited in scope. Personal injury civil cases allow a broader range of financial damages, such as those for pain and suffering or emotional distress. Even with restitution, you may still seek more appropriate compensation.
5. You May Choose to Wait. You often have more time to file a lawsuit than criminal prosecutors have to pursue their case. So criminal cases usually go first. This can be helpful since you can see how things go before deciding on yours. You may also need to respect the person's Fifth Amendment rights. Your attorney will help you follow procedures (such as pausing your case) to avoid losing your right to sue.
Where to Start
Intertwined criminal and civil matters arising from the same incident make things more complicated. Your best resource is a qualified personal injury lawyer in your state. Make an appointment today to learn more about these and other important factors to find the right path for your case.
For more info, contact a local personal injury lawyer.