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Civil vs. criminal liability in a personal injury case

Imagine that you are riding in a limousine through upstate New York, en route to a loved one’s fall wedding. Suddenly your driver realizes that he’s about to miss the turn leading to the chalet where the ceremony is being held. He hits the brakes, but the asphalt is still wet from this morning’s rain and he loses control of the limo, sending it crashing into a tree. You’re hurt, the driver is hurt, and so are two of your friends. The other two are killed.

When a police investigation confirms that the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over the legal limit, criminal charges result. You, your injured friends, and the families of those who were killed also file civil lawsuits.

This is one example of a car accident case involving both criminal and civil liability. Although this hypothetical limo driver faces both types of charges, there are different rules that apply and even a different standard for determining responsibility.

Criminal law is comparatively absolute. The driver cannot be found guilty unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. With a civil case, such as a personal injury claim, he can be held responsible if a preponderance of the evidence suggests that he is liable.

In a lot of automobile collision cases, no one may be found criminally liable because there isn’t sufficient evidence that the defendant broke the law, but victims and their families can still pursue a successful personal injury case. Although it is not car-related, one notorious example of this principle is the OJ Simpson case: he prevailed at his criminal trial but lost the subsequent civil case brought by the families of his alleged victims.

By the same token, a person can be found guilty of committing a crime but not held civilly liable for the outcome. For example, if the intoxicated limousine driver stopped at a red light and a vehicle behind you rear-ended the limo, then the police can charge him with DUI but he was obeying the law (responding to a red light) at the time of the accident, so he has no civil liability.

Are there different damages?

If the person who injured you is convicted in a criminal court, then they can be ordered to pay you restitution for damages that resulted from their crime, such as your medical bills and car repairs. In a personal injury case, there are more damages available: you can demand compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, lost wages, and more.

Contact a New York personal injury attorney

If you’re hurt in an automobile accident, then a New York personal injury attorney can help by reviewing the negligent party’s degree of civil liability and determining the best way to get you the restitution and/or compensation you need to recover.

If you or a loved one were injured in an accident, then contact the law office of Jayson Lutzky. Mr. Lutzky has over 36 years of legal experience and has helped clients recover money for pain and suffering, medical bills and lost wages. Call 718-329-9500 to set up a free in-person initial appointment.

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