Can You Sue When Criminal Charges Are Involved?

There are two types of cases that go to court. One is criminal cases, and the other is civil. With a criminal case, there are severe, legal consequences at stake, such as fines that may need to be paid and a decision about whether to send a person to prison if a guilty verdict is determined. With civil cases, the consequences, while still legal, are usually financial. A lawsuit where another person or group is found liable must pay the amount of financial damage/compensation that is being sued for.

In the majority of cases, the differences between a criminal and a civil court case are distinct and separate. There is no overlap. However, that’s in the majority of cases, that doesn’t mean there’s never an overlap. So what happens if there is? What circumstances would need to come about for a case to be both criminal and civil at the same time, and how does that work?

Two Trials

In these cases, there may be the possibility of two trials. The first is the mandatory criminal trial where the defendant is normally tried by a jury, who must conclude whether that defendant is guilty or not guilty. Of course, if the defendant is found guilty, there’s a criminal record, fines, and even a possible jail term. The second, optional trial is the civil trial, normally a lawsuit.

If you decide to pursue a lawsuit, this is a completely separate trial with consequences that don’t necessarily reflect—or be influenced by—the outcome of the criminal trial. In this case, it’s not guilty or not guilty, but liable or not liable. If the defendant is found liable, then whatever you are suing for, they or their insurance company must now pay that amount. There are a few specific instances when both a criminal and civil trial would take place for the same incident.

Drunk Driving

Unlike other traffic offenses such as speeding, or parking violations, drunk driving, when applied by an officer of the law, is a criminal charge. Guilty parties face fines, possible jail sentences, as well as a license suspension. However, if drunk driving also results in property damage, injury, or even death, there can be additional civil suit penalties.

Hit & Run

While it is not a criminal offense to get into a traffic accident causing an injury, it is a criminal offense to get into a car accident, and then flee the scene. In this instance, people charged with a hit and run have committed either a misdemeanor in the case of property damage or a second or first-degree felony if there was an injury or death. In addition, depending on the seriousness, if death was involved, gross negligence may warrant an additional charge of vehicular homicide, more commonly known as vehicular manslaughter. For hit and run cases, personal injury or wrongful death claims may go to civil court.


Even a crime as serious as murder may sometimes be accompanied by civil suit charges. The most famous case of this was in the 1990s, with the O.J. Simpson murder trial in California. While famous football athlete O.J. Simpson was ultimately found not guilty of the crime of murder, he was successfully found liable for wrongful death.

The reason this happens is that while murder convictions must leave a jury with a conclusion beyond all reasonable doubt to determine a verdict, civil cases, rely on a “preponderance of the evidence. This means that the verdict can be reasonable, “with doubts,” as opposed to beyond all reasonable doubt.

Regardless of whether a case is criminal and civil, or strictly civil, you will still need a lawyer with experience in either personal injury or wrongful death to help you.


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