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The Intersection of Criminal and Civil Law in Personal Injury Cases

The convergence of criminal and civil law in personal injuries adds a complicated facet to the legal landscape. Recognizing the importance of the interplay of these two branches of the law is essential, especially when seeking justice and compensation for those who have been harmed.


Our San Diego personal injury lawyers understand the significance of this twist in the legal system and are committed to helping clients understand every nuance of the law. Read on for clarification surrounding the intersection of criminal and civil law in personal injury cases in California.

How Do Criminal and Civil Laws Differ in Personal Injury Cases?

The primary focus of criminal law is on the prosecution of an individual for breaking the law, which usually includes the loss of their personal freedom via incarceration but may also include fines or probation.


In contrast, civil law deals with the rights and liabilities of individuals or companies. This area of law aims to present the injured party with compensation. It rarely involves jail but is often resolved with a monetary award to the victim.


In California, this divide often appears distinctly in the form of personal injury cases: A reckless individual may face assault charges for their illegal behavior. The victim typically brings a separate personal injury case to receive compensation for the damages resulting from the perpetrator’s wrongful actions.


The general difference is twofold: Criminal cases focus on punishing the individual for their crime, while civil cases compensate the injured party. Any injury victim needs to understand the distinction between these two types of law.

California’s Dual Legal Channels

Like many other states, California works within a double legal system, meaning victims can seek justice along both channels.


If you are harmed due to another’s negligence, you can bring a civil lawsuit to hold the responsible party accountable. Simultaneously, if that negligent act rises to the level of a crime, the state may also lay criminal charges against the perpetrator.

How Does California Law Address Criminal and Civil Aspects?

In California, a person who causes harm to another with criminal intent can be charged criminally when an act is particularly egregious, for instance, assault, reckless driving, or manslaughter.


It’s important to note that the state, not the victim, initiates a criminal case. The defendant must be charged through the grand jury mechanism or the District Attorney’s office files a felony complaint.


The outcome of a criminal case, whether a conviction or an acquittal, can impact an ensuing civil case, but each is a distinct item.

Impact of Criminal Convictions on Civil Cases

Under California law, victims may use evidence from their criminal trial in their civil case. If the responsible party is convicted of a crime stemming from the injury, the conviction will likely make things easier for the injury victim’s civil case: What was once mere circumstantial evidence will now be powerful proof of liability.


Even if there is no criminal conviction, the standard for liability in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower burden of proof for the victim than the beyond-a-reasonable doubt standard that determines guilt in a criminal case.

Can a Civil Lawsuit Proceed Without Criminal Charges?

Yes. In California, the decision to pursue criminal charges is up to the prosecutor, who may decide not to pursue them even if a civil case is viable.


The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is lower. It requires only a preponderance of evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so even if there isn’t enough evidence to press charges in a criminal case, there may be enough to win a civil lawsuit.

Civil Justice: A Remedy for Victims

In California, the civil justice system enables victims to seek full compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from the injury.


This avenue can be vital to pursue when the state might not bring criminal charges. At HHJ Trial Attorneys, we’re committed to leading you down this path to recovery when criminal charges may not be pursued.

How Does Shared Liability Impact Personal Injury Cases in California?

California is a comparative negligence state, meaning that an injured party has a right to seek recovery even if they were partially at fault for the incident.


The critical distinction is that any compensation the injured person may be awarded is proportionally reduced based on the percentage of their fault. It means a thorough examination of shared liability at both its criminal and civil levels is required.


In civil cases, determining the precise percentage of fault becomes central and directly affects the compensation to the injured party. Navigating this maze requires a deep understanding of California’s comparative negligence system and a focus on ensuring fair and just resolutions for individuals seeking compensation in personal injury cases characterized by shared fault.

The Role of Evidence in Establishing Fault

Hard evidence is essential for a successful resolution, whether in a criminal case or a civil lawsuit. A criminal conviction necessitates proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, even in the absence of criminal charges, the importance of hard proof cannot be overstated when it comes to building a civil case.


Documents proving negligence, testimonies from those who saw what happened, and expert analysis of what occurred will be critical for any case. Maneuvering through this terrain with expert legal guidance is necessary for a fair resolution.

Get Comprehensive Legal Representation From Experienced Attorneys

The intersection of criminal and civil law creates a challenging yet crucial landscape for victims seeking justice in the vast expanse of personal injury law. In California, the legal system accommodates both avenues, allowing victims to pursue compensation through civil lawsuits even when criminal charges may not be pursued.


HHJ Trial Attorneys stands as a beacon of legal expertise, guiding clients through the complexities of this dual legal system to achieve the justice and compensation they deserve.


Contact us today for a free consultation.


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