If you or a loved one was injured by another, you may be unsure whether the situation involves a criminal or civil court claim. Personal injury claims for damages generally are handled as a civil claim. However, in some cases, because of the defendant's actions, it may also be treated as a criminal matter.
For example, if you were rear-ended in an accident, you may be able to seek damages from the driver who caused the accident. However, if the other driver had been drinking before they got into the accident, they may also be charged with the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol. The defendant could be facing a criminal DUI case prosecuted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where the penalties could include a fine, and jail time. Additionally, they may be facing a civil personal injury trial to compensate you for your injuries as well as any property damage.
Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases
Criminal cases and civil cases are treated very differently. Criminal cases are prosecuted by the government, in the name of the people. Criminal cases also include a much broader range of penalties. Depending on the nature and severity of the crime, a criminal case could result in years behind bars, fines and fees paid to the state, mandatory education and treatment, loss of rights and privileges, and limit where a person can go, what they can do, and how late they can stay out at night.
In a civil trial, a plaintiff may also be more limited in what they can seek for their injury. In a personal injury trial, damages are generally limited to money damages.
Criminal cases also have a higher burden of proof to find the defendant guilty. This means it is generally harder for the state to prove that the defendant is guilty of a criminal offense than it would be in a civil case. In a criminal case, the prosecution has to prove all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any reasonable doubt that the defendant may not have committed a crime, then the jury is supposed to find the defendant not guilty.
In a civil case, the burden of proof is lower. The jury only needs to find that the plaintiff proved their case “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This can be equated to the jury finding greater than a 50% chance that the defendant is liable.
In many criminal cases, the defendant is also entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one. This is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. If a criminal defendant cannot afford an attorney to represent them in a criminal trial, they may be assigned a public defender, at no cost to them.
In civil court cases, the plaintiff and defendant may be responsible for finding their own legal representation. In most cases, individuals can represent themselves in a civil case, as a pro se plaintiff or defendant. This occurs relatively often in cases where the amount in controversy is smaller, such as in small claims court. However, in most personal injury claims, the plaintiff and defendant will have professional legal representation.
Plaintiffs who are seeking to file a personal injury claim can take advantage of the contingent fee system to get an experienced attorney to represent them, without having to worry about how they will pay for a lawyer. Many personal injury attorneys will take a plaintiff's case with no upfront costs to the client. They will only be paid if they win the case. This allows individuals to have access to quality legal representation regardless of how much money they have.
Timeline of a Claim with a Criminal Case
Generally, if your personal injury claim involves a possible underlying criminal action, you may have to wait to pursue your personal injury lawsuit. If the defendant is being charged by the criminal court, your civil action may be stayed until the criminal case has concluded. If the defendant is convicted, you may be able to use the conviction to your advantage in your civil case. However, even if the defendant is found not guilty, you may still be able to pursue a civil action. Remember that the civil system has a lower burden of proof. Even if a defendant was not guilty because of a reasonable doubt, they may be liable by a preponderance of the evidence.
Your Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorneys
Some personal injury claims can involve a criminal case. You should contact an attorney with experience in handling these types of claims to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve. If you were injured in an accident, contact the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian to file your claim. Our experienced attorneys have years of experience handling personal injury and medical malpractice cases in Philadelphia. Contact our office today for a free consultation.