Personal Injury and Criminal Cases
Sometimes, injury cases can also involve criminal charges.
In September, a New York man was charged with criminal negligence and operating a vessel while impaired after his boat struck another boat on a lake in New York. The man was allegedly operating a boat with one passenger while impaired by alcohol when his boat struck another that was carrying three men and two six-year-old children.
Four of the people involved were hurt, including the two children. None were reported killed, but there were serious injuries involved.
Where civil and criminal intersect
Sometimes, accidents happen, and no party can be truly accused of criminal action. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. It’s the job of the police to investigate the circumstances around accidents such as the one in New York described above. They’re the ones who decide to pursue criminal charges if their investigation turns up actions that break criminal laws.
Personal injury lawsuits, on the other hand, are civil litigation. The police don’t take any part in civil litigation, other than their reports being used as evidence or possibly being asked to provide a deposition around the facts of what happened.
These happen in separate cases; even if someone is convicted of criminal charges that affect you as a victim, that case will not usually result in compensation to you. It’s not the job of criminal prosecutors to secure compensation for victims. In a criminal case, you may be awarded a different type of monetary payment called restitution. This can cover some expenses, such as psychological treatment and future medical costs, but rarely amounts to the true value of the civil case.
Civil personal injury suits, however, allow you to seek compensation directly from the defendant to cover your expenses outside their criminal charges.
Personal injury suits may be based on negligence. This is in the case of when a building manager fails to maintain a staircase and you fall, injuring yourself severely. That can be directly cited to the manager’s failure to reasonably maintain the premises.
Criminal charges may be more severe, such as criminal negligence in driving, like texting while behind the wheel. Most jurisdictions in the United States ban texting on a cell phone while driving, which could be used as evidence to prosecute someone for criminal negligence.
Police and criminal prosecutors have a harder job than in civil personal injury cases. Criminal prosecutors have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury; in a civil case, the attorney must only prove responsibility for your injury based on a preponderance of evidence. This is why having enough evidence is so important in a personal injury case—an attorney must use it to show that it’s more likely than not that the other party caused your injury.
Even if the jury does not convict the defendant in a criminal case, you can still win a civil suit because the burden of evidence is lower. One of the most famous examples of this is in the case of OJ Simpson, who won his criminal case but lost the civil case and was held liable for damages. Civil lawsuits also typically have a longer timeframe before being beyond a statute of limitations.
However, on the other hand, just because there is a criminal case doesn’t mean you automatically have a civil case. An experienced attorney will be able to help you evaluate based on the evidence whether you have a good chance of pursuing a civil personal injury case.