Can criminal charges affect a personal injury lawsuit?

Many injury victims are unaware of the fact that they can file a personal injury lawsuit if their injuries are the result of an incident that is considered a crime under their local or state law. In this post, we’ll learn how personal injury lawsuits and criminal charges differ and how a verdict in a criminal charge usually has no effect on a civil lawsuit alleging personal injury or even wrongful death.

Criminal Cases: The Burden of Proof

In a criminal case, the burden of proof always falls on the prosecution rather than the defendant. In simplest terms, any defendant in a criminal case is assumed to be innocent and the state or local prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant did commit the crime. In many cases, a conviction on a criminal charge is sufficient to prove liability in a civil lawsuit. But, we might ask, what about a civil lawsuit where our defendant was found innocent in a criminal trial involving the same facts?

Civil Suits: The Burden of Proof

A criminal charge usually has no effect on a personal injury lawsuit because, in many states, the mere fact that a crime was committed is considered proof of negligence on the part of the person who was charged. In a personal injury case, it doesn’t matter if the defendant was found innocent in a criminal case because the burden of proof is lower in civil lawsuits. Thus, even if the facts in the case are not sufficient to convict in a criminal case, the same facts are often enough to win a personal injury lawsuit. As an example, consider the infamous O.J. Simpson/Nicole Brown Simpson/Ronald Goldman murder case and the successful wrongful death lawsuit later filed against Simpson by his ex-wife’s parents.

  • Simpson was found not guilty on two counts of murder in his criminal trial. The family of Nicole Brown Simpson then filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson.
  • Even though the facts that were presented to the jury were essentially the same in both cases, because of the lower burden of proof in civil cases Simpson was found liable for his ex-wife’s death and ordered to pay a substantial sum in damages to her family.

Liability in Civil Cases

Under the civil law code in many states, a conviction or a guilty plea in a criminal case is considered sufficient to establish liability for any injuries or other losses that arise from the same offense. As another example, a conviction for driving under the influence/driving while impaired is all that is necessary to prove negligence in many states. If an intoxicated driver caused an accident, that driver can still be held liable for injuries even if he or she is acquitted on the criminal charge.

In closing, lawsuits for personal injuries that are sustained as a result of a criminal act can be successful even if the defendant is not charged or is found not guilty in a criminal court. Since such cases can involve complex legal issues, the advice of an experienced personal injury lawyer such as the Personal Injury Attorney DC locals trust should always be considered by anyone contemplating such a lawsuit.

A special thanks to Frederick J. Brynn, P.C for their insight into Personal Injury Law.