The Parties | The Penalties | The Law | The Burden of Proof
When you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver, there can be two very different legal proceedings that arise out of the circumstances. You can file a civil lawsuit against the defendant to recover compensation for your losses, but there’s also a potential criminal case for violation of drunk driving laws. How does your civil proceeding (the personal injury lawsuit) differ from the criminal process?
The Factors that Make a Civil Lawsuit Different
There are a number of ways that a civil suit for personal injury will differ from a criminal prosecution:
- The parties—When you seek damages after a personal injury, you will always be the “plaintiff,” or the person bringing the complaint. Criminal proceedings are always initiated by the government on behalf of its citizens. In a civil matter, the defendant may be a private citizen, a business or a governmental body. In a criminal matter, the defendant is almost always a private citizen.
- The penalties—When you file a personal injury lawsuit, your recourse is always the recovery of financial compensation for your losses. In a criminal prosecution, the defendant can be compelled to make restitution or may be charged fines, but the common sanction is incarceration or some other limitation of freedom.
- The burden of proof—To succeed with personal injury litigation, you must only convince the jury that your version of the facts if more believable than the defendant’s version. In a criminal case, you must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
- The source of the law—Most personal injury claims have evolved out of the common law, which comes from opinions written by judges. Criminal prosecutions are generally based on violation of a statute (a written law enacted by a legislative body).