When filing a personal injury lawsuit, you assume it will be handled exclusively as a civil case. However, depending upon the circumstances, it’s possible criminal charges may be filed against certain parties as well. While it can be complicated, it happens far more than most people realize. If you have been involved in an accident and are considering filing a personal injury civil lawsuit, there are certain factors regarding criminal charges that may impact your civil case.
The Importance of Intent
To create liability in a personal injury claim, it must be shown that the defendant had intent to harm the victim. In other words, the defendant’s motive does not matter, but rather if they are shown to have intentionally committed an act that they should have known would cause an injury, they can be held liable for criminal charges. If this is shown, and it is also shown the plaintiff exhibited a reasonable reaction to the defendant’s actions against them, criminal charges can be pursued.
Who Controls the Cases?
In situations where both civil and criminal cases are pursued against a defendant, different parties control each case. With civil cases, the victim in the criminal case becomes the plaintiff in the civil case. However, note that it’s not necessary to have a criminal case underway prior to filing a personal injury civil suit. But if a criminal case does proceed, be prepared to be called as a witness.
Can Civil and Criminal Cases be Tried Simultaneously?
The answer to this question is no. If after examining the evidence prosecutors decide to pursue criminal charges, a defendant cannot be sued for a personal injury claim until their criminal trial is finished. In situations where a civil lawsuit is already proceeding when the criminal trial is set to begin, the civil lawsuit trial is put on hold, or stayed, until the criminal trial concludes. However, while these two trials may not be held at the same time, it should be noted that the findings in the criminal trial can be used in the civil lawsuit. Whether a defendant is found guilty or innocent, or if any other evidence or information comes to light during that trial, you and your personal injury lawyer can try to use it to your advantage during the civil lawsuit. Known as “collateral estoppel,” it’s a legal rule allowing the criminal findings to be used in the civil trial, rather than having to spend time during the civil trial having to prove the same facts all over again.
Consult with an Attorney
While a civil lawsuit involving personal injury is complex by itself, being involved in a situation where criminal charges may also apply makes the situation even more challenging in many ways. Because of this, always work with a personal injury attorney who has experience and knowledge in dealing with these types of cases. In doing so, your legal rights will be protected each step of the way, enabling you to gain the justice you deserve.
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