How Criminal Charges May Affect Your Personal Injury


Earlier this month, three people were killed and another three were injured after their car was involved in a chain reaction collision. According to reports, an Oceanside teen lost control of his car and slammed into a pickup truck. The force of impact caused the truck to broadside the family’s vehicle. At least two of the accident victims were thrown from the vehicle, while another two were trapped inside the car.

The teenager has been arrested on suspicion of DUI and possession of cocaine. In addition to criminal charges, the teen will probably also be named in personal injury lawsuits filed by the surviving family members.

Civil Cases Often Stayed Until Criminal Proceedings Are Resolved

Civil and criminal cases are separate from one another. It’s possible to be charged with a crime and named as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit at the same time. This is fairly common after a car accident involving a DUI.

While the criminal and civil proceedings can unfold simultaneously, defense attorneys typically file a motion to stay the civil case. A motion to stay basically asks a court to pause a civil case in which a defendant is involved. The civil case is put on hold until the criminal matter is resolved.

Stays are often granted so that a defendant can focus all of his or her attention on the criminal matter at hand. Since the potential consequences of a criminal conviction are quite harsh, states want to give defendants every opportunity to defend themselves. This can be hard to do if the defendant is also dealing with a personal injury lawsuit.

“These situations play out the same across the U.S.,” according to Miami personal injury lawyer Boris Lavent. “Just because a personal injury lawsuit is stayed doesn’t mean that victims and/or their families can’t recover compensation. It just might take a little bit longer to get money in hand,” Mr. Lavent tells us. The civil proceedings will resume as soon as (a) charges are dropped, (b) a plea agreement is reached, or (c) the defendant is acquitted or found guilty at trial.

Results of a Criminal Case May or May Not Affect Personal Injury Lawsuits

Since criminal and civil cases are entirely separate proceedings, the results of one case will not automatically have an impact on the other. For example, let’s say that the Oceanside teen is not convicted of DUI for his role in the fatal car accident. This doesn’t mean that the surviving family members won’t be able to win their personal injury lawsuit and recover compensation from this same driver.

One of the biggest reasons for this is because the burden of proof in criminal and civil cases is different. Criminal cases require guilt to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil cases, on the other hand, require that plaintiffs prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower threshold. It’s much more difficult to prove guilt in a criminal case than it is to prove fault in a civil case.

At the same time, a conviction in a criminal case doesn’t automatically mean that a plaintiff will win their related personal injury case. However, a conviction can be helpful. This is particularly true when a defendant is guilty of violating a law that is intended to prevent the type of accident and harm that occurred.

Families can use a conviction to establish a presumption of negligence. Invoking the legal theory of negligence per se can make it much easier for a plaintiff to prove their case and recover the compensation they deserve.

Things can get complicated when the person who causes your accident is also charged with a crime. It’s best to hire an experienced attorney to handle your case. Do not hesitate to contact Injury Trial Lawyers, APC for assistance after your accident.