When a serious injury accident occurs, victims may not initially know where to turn or what their rights may be. Many are unsure whether a criminal process or a civil one will apply in their case. While the lion's share of claims related to personal injury events will require handling as a civil matter, there are certain times in which criminal proceedings are also involved, adding new layers of complexity to the situation. Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal has the knowledge and experience to help injury victims appreciate the forces certain to be at play in their matter and understand the most effective ways in which to pursue maximum financial compensation.
How Civil and Criminal Matters Can Intersect
It may not initially be apparent exactly how a given case may have both civil and criminal implications, though it is important for potential plaintiffs to understand the sorts of scenarios under which it could happen. For instance, if you were the victim of a serious car crash, you may decide to pursue a civil lawsuit for damages against the negligent driver. It may ultimately be revealed that the driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash, and criminal charges could be issued. Under such circumstances, the same sequence of events has the ability to yield a personal injury trial as well as a criminal prosecution.
Criminal Prosecutions and Civil Matters
It is necessary to note the clear distinctions between civil and criminal cases in our system of justice. The government is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases and imposing penalties for those convicted of violating the law. Significant limitations on individual freedom can attach to those found guilty of criminal offenses, and therefore such matters are taken very seriously. There is a high standard of proof in criminal cases, with all elements of an offense having to be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
By contrast, a civil lawsuit in a personal injury case is designed to determine whether a plaintiff is entitled to receive compensation for losses sustained and how much money should be paid. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof in that a plaintiff only needs to show by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it is more likely than not, that the defendant is liable for the alleged harm. As a result, a guilty finding in a criminal matter can be powerful evidence of liability in a subsequent civil case.
Potential Impact of Criminal Cases on Victim Compensation
Whether or not the events surrounding a civil case also produce criminal charges can have a significant effect on the compensation available to injury victims. It is the case in Colorado that victims of felonies, misdemeanors, petty and traffic misdemeanors are either awarded restitution or a specific finding must be made that no losses were sustained. If restitution is ordered, the offender in question is held responsible for the financial damage done to their victim, and a formal obligation to pay is entered. Restitution requirements can include payment for:
- expenses incurred due to the need for psychological treatment
- anticipated future outlays
- anticipated medical costs
- adjustment expenses
- reward monies paid by victims
- other losses caused by the conduct at issue
- pre- and post-judgment interest
It should be noted that restitution of this type never includes payment for physical pain and suffering, lost earning capacity, lost enjoyment or punitive damages of any kind. The prosecutor assigned to a criminal case will be the one to prove the losses that will be the subject of the restitution order, and he or she may utilize victim impact statements and other types of testimony to establish the true amount of damage done.
Insurance Coverage and Restitution
Victims who are awarded restitution may wonder whether their insurance coverage will impact the amount they will receive, and the answer depends largely on the type of criminal offense involved. In non-felony matters, the court will order restitution for only the dollar amount of losses suffered which will not be compensated by an existing insurance policy. The same is not true when it comes to felony cases, because in most instances, carriers are not obligated to defend insured parties in terms of restitution unless the coverage contract specifically says otherwise.
Civil Litigation Stemming from a Criminal Offense
While the opportunity to obtain compensation in the form of mandatory restitution following a criminal case can be a valuable tool for injury victims attempting to pick up the pieces and move forward with life, the fact is that such payments are often utterly insufficient to fully restore them to the way of life enjoyed prior to the events at issue. When this is the case, it may be necessary to pursue a civil lawsuit as a means to secure payment for pain, suffering, emotional trauma, loss of key relationships and support, reduced earning capacity and other categories of harm. As in all personal injury cases, the prospective defendant's assets, income and solvency will be examined to determine whether a civil lawsuit is likely to yield a collectible judgment. Prolonged sentences of incarceration resulting from a criminal trial can often significantly hamper a defendant's subsequent ability to pay any civil judgment obtained, and a cost/benefit analysis of any contemplated litigation will be crucial.
Advocating for Injury Victims, Fighting for Maximum Recovery
For a significant number of injury victims, their accident and the court cases that may follow represent their first interaction with the legal system. As such, an understandable degree of confusion and uncertainty can sometimes reign. Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal is committed to providing clients with the insights and explanations necessary for them to make timely, informed decisions about their matters as well as the future of their entire families.
If you have been seriously harmed in an accident in which a negligent party is also being prosecuted for a criminal offense, the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal stands prepared to help. By unpacking the relevant issues and assessing the potential convergence of recovery resources, we will work diligently to secure the full amount of compensation you deserve. To begin the process, contact us at 303.825.2223.