Civil Vs. Criminal Liability In A Personal Injury Case

Imagine that you are riding in a limousine through the countryside outside St. Louis, en route to a loved one’s wedding. Suddenly, your driver realizes he is about to miss the turn leading to your destination. When he hits the brakes, he loses control of the limo and crashes into a tree. Both you and the driver are injured. Two friends who happened to be sharing the ride with you are killed.

When a police investigation confirms that a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds the legal limit, he is charged with involuntary manslaughter. You file a personal injury claim against his auto insurance company while the families of the two people killed file wrongful death claims.

Civil and Criminal Liability Explained

A car accident case like this can involve both criminal and civil liability. Even though this limousine driver faces both types of penalties for injuring and killing passengers while drinking and driving, there are different legal rules that apply.

Criminal law is relatively absolute. In order for the driver to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions behind the wheel caused the death of another person. 

In a civil case, the burden of proof is different: he can be held liable if a preponderance of the evidence indicates that he was negligent. One famous example (although not related to motor vehicle accidents) is the O.J. Simpson case: the jury acquitted him at his criminal trial but he lost the subsequent civil case brought by the families of the victims.

In the same vein, a person can be found guilty of committing a crime but not be liable civilly for the outcome. For example, if the intoxicated limousine driver stopped at a red light and a vehicle behind you rear-ends the limo, the police can charge him with DUI but since he was obeying the law (responding to a red light) at the time of the accident, any personal injury or wrongful death claims will likely be filed against the other driver.

Is There a Difference in Damages?

If the person who hurt you is convicted of a criminal offense, they can be ordered to pay you restitution for certain damages caused by their misconduct such as medical bills and lost wages (but not pain and suffering or property damage). In a personal injury case, you can sue the defendant or their insurance company for a wider range of losses that include property damage and pain and suffering.

Questions? Contact a Missouri Personal Injury Lawyer

When you’re injured in a car accident, a Missouri personal injury attorney can help you by evaluating the negligent party’s degree of civil liability and determining how to get you the compensation you need to cover your losses and take care of your family while you recover. To schedule a consultation, contact Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC today.

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Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC

Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC, is a litigation law firm that represents individuals and families in serious personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout Missouri.

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