How Do Criminal Charges Impact a Personal Injury Case?

Criminal cases and personal injury cases often intersect when the at-fault party is charged with a crime. While both types of cases involve wrongdoing and harm caused to others, they differ significantly in their objectives, processes, and outcomes. There are several types of cases that our Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers handle that can sometimes not only involve civil liability, but the at-fault party may also be facing criminal consequences for their actions.

One example is an intentional tort, such as assault or murder. Another example – and probably the most common – type of personal injury case that often involves criminal charges is DUI accidents.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an incident where another party has been charged with a crime, it is important to understand the differences between the two types of legal actions and how your case may be impacted.

Legal Nature

Criminal cases are initiated by the government (prosecution) against a defendant who is accused of committing a crime. The primary purpose of criminal cases is to punish the defendant for their unlawful actions, with potential penalties including fines, probation, or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense.

Personal injury cases are civil lawsuits filed by the injured party (plaintiff) against the at-fault party (defendant) seeking compensation for the harm suffered. The objective of personal injury cases is to provide financial restitution to the victim for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages incurred due to the defendant’s negligence or intentional misconduct.

Burden of Proof

In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution, and they must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a high standard that requires strong evidence and leaves little room for doubt.

In personal injury cases, the burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases. The plaintiff must establish the defendant’s liability by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the harm.

Parties Involved

The primary parties in a criminal case are the government (prosecution) and the defendant. The victim of the crime may be a witness but is not directly involved in prosecuting the case. The victim’s role is to cooperate with law enforcement and provide testimony if necessary.

In personal injury cases, the primary parties are the plaintiff (injured party) and the defendant (at-fault party). The victim is the one who initiates the lawsuit and actively pursues compensation for their damages. There is no government involvement in personal injury cases.

One thing we often have to explain to clients when we are handling their personal injury case arising from a drunk driving charge against the defendant is that we cannot act as their attorney in the criminal case; that’s what the prosecuting attorney does for the city or county involved.  We can give them guidance about what to expect, but we are not acting as their attorney In the criminal case.

Penalties vs. Compensation

As mentioned above, the outcome of a criminal case can result in the defendant facing penalties such as fines, probation, imprisonment, or other criminal sanctions. The focus is on punishment and rehabilitation.

Personal injury cases aim to provide financial compensation to the plaintiff to cover their economic and non-economic losses. The focus is on restoring the victim to their pre-injury state as much as possible.

Process and Procedure

Criminal cases follow a strict legal process that includes arrest, arraignment, pretrial hearings, trial, and, if necessary, appeals. The prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt, and the defendant has a right to legal representation. The outcome of a criminal case can result in a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Guilty verdicts lead to criminal penalties, while not-guilty verdicts result in the defendant’s acquittal.

Personal injury cases proceed through civil litigation, which includes filing a complaint, discovery, negotiation, and possibly trial. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff, and both parties have the right to legal representation. The outcome of a personal injury case can lead to a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, resulting in a monetary award. This award is designed to compensate the victim for their losses.

Virginia has an important rule in civil cases where there has been a prior criminal charge. Only if a defendant pleads guilty to a crime can that plea of guilt be used in a civil case. On the other hand, if that defendant involved in both the criminal case and the personal injury case, was found guilty, this evidence may not be used. It doesn’t mean a civil personal injury lawyer would have great difficulty proving the liability of the person charged with the criminal offense; it just means you can’t use a finding of guilt from the criminal case in the civil case.

Call Our Personal Injury Law Firm for Legal Assistance

If you have been injured in an accident where the at-fault party has been charged with a crime or have lost a loved one due to wrongful death, it is critical to not wait until the criminal case is resolved before speaking with an attorney to find out what legal recourse you may have. Virginia imposes a strict statute of limitations on how long injured victims have to pursue civil action against liable parties and that window could close if you wait for resolution of the criminal case. It is also important to understand that even if the at-fault party is ultimately found not guilty or charges are dismissed, you could still be successful in your personal injury claim.

To learn more, contact Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our dedicated Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers. Our firm has built a solid reputation of aggressively advocating for our clients and obtaining the compensation they are entitled to, like the $200,000 insurance settlement we secured for one client who suffered a broken hip and a fractured vertebra when a drunk driver crashed into his car.

Our personal injury firm also has satellite offices in Hampton, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.