Civil and criminal cases resulting from the same accident
POSTED BY Scott O’Sullivan
April 5, 2011
Civil and criminal cases can arise from the same set of facts. They are handled separately, however, from beginning to end. For individuals involved in a “car versus pedestrian” accident, lawyers can file a civil action and the state can also pursue criminal charges against the motorist.
Based upon a few facts, two totally separate actions at law can be commenced. Consider a pedestrian walking down a Colorado street, facing traffic. A fast moving car swerves erratically and then hits the pedestrian, causing multiple injuries. The car does not stop. An alert bystander notes the car’s color and tag numbers, and immediately calls 911. Within 10 minutes, law enforcement has chased stopped car and apprehended the driver, who is found to have a blood alcohol level of .09. A civil trial seeking damages from the defendant due to his negligence is best handled by an attorney representing the interests of the pedestrian; accident lawyers are experienced in trying civil cases such as these. A criminal trial would be prosecuted by the state based upon the defendant’s breaking the law.
A district attorney, representing the state, would handle the criminal prosecution of the driver. In Colorado, the facts presented could result in charges such as DUI, leaving the scene of an accident or reckless driving. In civil proceedings involving the injury of a pedestrian, accident lawyers will generally handle the case and will not be involved in the prosecution of the criminal matter.
In criminal cases, the burden of proof is almost always upon the prosecution, hence the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”. So, in this case, the state would need to prove that the defendant was under the influence at the time of the incident, willfully left the scene and failed to exercise due care while driving. The defendant needs to prove nothing (unless he is pursuing something like an insanity defense), but if found guilty, he could face fines, jail time and community service.
Punishment of a guilty party offers its own comfort, but when an individual’s medical expenses and loss of wages need redressing, it is the civil courts that come into play. A car accident attorney representing the injured pedestrian in this case would handle any communications with insurance adjustors. In a case involving a pedestrian accident, lawyers who specialize in this area are also experts in ensuring proper protection of the client’s interests during the discovery process.
If the case does not settle and goes to trial, the court will hear evidence of the car accident. Attorneys for both sides will argue in favor of their clients. In a civil matter, the burden of proving their case lies initially on the plaintiff, who must prove that the defendant committed the acts alleged in the suit, and caused the plaintiff’s damages. The plaintiff must prove that his or her version of what happened is “more than likely” to be true. Proving the case means the attorneys representing the injured party will secure a monetary award on behalf of their client.
One set of facts with two very different outcomes from the civil and criminal courts. One court aims to redress the injuries sustained by a plaintiff. The other seeks to punish, rehabilitate and seek retribution for the defendant’s criminal actions. A car accident attorney is the best person to handle cases on the civil arena, while the criminal courts are left to the DAs. The overlap of the criminal and civil actions starts and stops with the facts that lead either suit to be filed.