What Is the Difference Between a Civil Claim and a Criminal Case?


A car accident might be both a civil and a criminal matter, depending on the factors involved in the crash. If the individual or other party who caused the crash was doing something illegal like driving drunk when the accident happened, then the government might charge them with a criminal act.

In this type of case, the prosecutor must prove that the person or company they think committed a crime is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the guilty party is convicted in a criminal trial, then the court will likely sentence them to serve time in jail, pay a fine, or fulfill some other criminal penalty. However, in criminal cases, the court won’t order the defendant to compensate victims.

On the other hand, a civil case is the type of claim available to victims who want to pursue compensation after an accident. While the state or another government entity is the party that can bring criminal actions against someone, auto accident victims or their eligible loved ones only have a right to take civil action against a negligent individual, company, or another party.

Civil lawsuits are the primary avenue for victims to get compensation for the losses they’re suffering because of the wreck. In order to win a civil case, victims or their survivors must provide a preponderance of evidence to prove that the other party did something negligent, reckless, or wrongful that led to their injuries.

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Car Accident Claim?

If you or a loved one are suffering from damages after an auto collision through no fault of your own, then you might be eligible to recover compensation through a civil car accident suit.

Some elements that victims, their families, or their legal representatives must prove in civil claims include:

  • The other driver, negligent car manufacturer, or another party had a duty to protect you and others on the road by doing something like driving safely or producing a safe vehicle.
  • The other party violated this duty of care by doing something wrongful, careless, or negligent, such as speeding.
  • Their negligent, wrongful, or reckless actions led to your accident.
  • You are suffering injuries or some other kind of damages because of the accident.

An experienced car crash attorney can evaluate your case to help determine whether you have a car wreck claim and help you understand your legal options. They can also help determine how much your case might be worth. The exact amount of compensation you can get will depend on the details of your case.

However, in general, victims of car accidents who pursue civil claims can typically recover damages, such as:

  • Lost income
  • Current and future medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Reduced ability to work or earn a comparable income
  • Property damage
  • Diminished quality of life

In cases where a person dies in a car crash, their surviving loved ones can usually file another type of civil claim called a wrongful death suit. The types of compensation available to survivors through this kind of lawsuit include things like lost companionship, funeral and burial expenses, loss of the deceased victim’s income, pain and suffering, and lost parental support.

Will Results from Criminal Litigation Affect My Civil Case?

Criminal and civil cases are separate legal actions. While someone might face both criminal and civil actions for the same accident, these cases don’t impact each other directly. If the court convicts someone of criminal charges related to a car wreck, this doesn’t necessarily mean that victims injured in the crash will get compensation for damages related to the accident.

However, victims or their family members might still be able to benefit from the negligent party’s criminal conviction. For instance, if a drunk driver causes an accident and the court convicts them of a criminal act, then victims of the wreck or their lawyers can use the court’s ruling as evidence in a civil case. They can use the conviction to help prove that the other driver behaved negligently, which led to the accident and the damages they’re suffering.

How Can a New York Car Accident Attorney Help Me?

If you were injured or a loved one was killed in a car wreck, a New York City car accident lawyer can help you fight for the justice and full compensation you deserve. They can handle all the details of your civil case, so you can focus on recovery.

For instance, when you work with an experienced car crash lawyer, they’ll launch a full investigation into your case and help gather the evidence needed to support your claim. They’ll also negotiate on your behalf with the other party’s insurance to help fight for the maximum compensation you deserve. If the insurer won’t agree to a fair settlement, then your attorney can also help you file a lawsuit and stand up for your rights in court.

At Finz & Finz, P.C., our compassionate and knowledgeable New York car wreck attorneys have what it takes to tackle even the toughest cases. We have 40 years of experience helping victims just like you get the compensation they’re owed after tragedies across New York like car wrecks. Our industry-leading lawyers have a proven track record of helping clients get the results that count, and we want to do the same for you.

Don’t wait to stand up for your legal rights after a car accident. Finz & Finz, P.C. is prepared to do all we can to help you get on the road to recovery. To schedule your free case evaluation, call us today at 855-TOP-FIRM or chat with us live online.

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Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.