Pursuing Civil Lawsuit Amid Criminal Prosecution

In a handful of Greensboro car accident injury lawsuits, there are situations in which a defendant is facing both criminal prosecution brought by authorities, as well as the civil action brought by the plaintiff.
Often, the goals of the two cases are very similar, but they are designed to serve inherently different purposes. The criminal case punishes the offender, and the civil case compensates the victims.

It’s for this reason that even when the at-fault driver is facing criminal action, victims should still explore a civil case, even if a prosecutor has stressed to you that part of his or her goal is restitution. While it’s true that you don’t have to pay a prosecutor to help fight for you to recover damages, remember again that this is not their primary function, and there may be instances (i.e., a plea deal) when that aspect of the case may be compromised for some other element.

Additionally, the burden of proof for criminal cases is much higher than for civil cases. That means the prosecutor is going to have a tougher time proving guilt in the criminal justice system than you would have proving negligence in a civil courtroom.

If the situation is serious enough to have involved the authorities, you need an attorney who will look out for your interests and is dedicated to helping you fully recover the compensation you deserve.

Generally, criminal cases are allowed to proceed first, and are then followed by a civil lawsuit. This could change if the deadline in which to file a civil lawsuit is nearing, and the criminal case still hasn’t come to a conclusion. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations is three years.

In cases where the civil and criminal proceedings are happening simultaneously, it’s possible that that defense lawyers could request a stay to allow the criminal proceedings to be completed first. Usually, that has to do with the conflict of interest for the defendant.

That’s what happened in the recent case of Hardiman v. Cozmanoff, reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court. Here, a young woman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. The alleged offender was caught and charged with 13 criminal counts, including reckless homicide.

While that case was still pending, the young woman’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant. In conjunction with that, the family made several discovery requests. His attorneys pointed out that if he were to invoke the Fifth Amendment (in protection against self-incrimination), a civil jury could infer he was liable for causing her death. However, were he to comply with the requests and provide answers, that information could be used against him in criminal court.

The civil court granted a limited stay, a decision that was later affirmed by the state supreme court.

Just because the criminal proceeding is usually allowed to proceed first does not mean that you should wait to meet with an attorney or file your case. There is, as we mentioned, the possibility that you could run up against statute of limitation deadlines (you don’t want to run too close).

Additionally, there may be an option to pursue damages against third parties in the meantime. For example, if you are the victim of an underage drunk driver, the person or establishment that served alcohol to that person could be held liable under North Carolina dram shop laws. There is also limited liability for vendors who serve to intoxicated adults and social hosts who serve alcohol and then negligently allow their guests to get behind the wheel.

Every case is going to be different. It’s important to consult with an attorney soon after the crash to determine your options.

Contact the Greensboro injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Hardiman v. Cozmanoff, March 12, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Carolina Traffic Collisions Most Often Caused by Careless, Distracted Drivers, March 11, 2014, Greensboro Injury Lawyer Blog

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