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Why criminal cases can affect civil cases

Auto accidents during the holiday season are tragic, given that it is a time for families to come together. This is likely why there will be more law enforcement officers on the streets and highways to get drunk drivers off the road. But when does a traffic violation turn into a civil matter?

This post will highlight the difference between a crime and an accident.

In order for a driver to be found guilty of a traffic violation (or in some circumstances, a misdemeanor) the state must prove every element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e. no other logical explanation can be given for the crime occurring). This is a notoriously difficult standard for prosecutors to reach, but they generally do.

In order for a driver to be held civilly liable for the damages and injuries caused in an accident, it must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. more likely than not) that he or she was responsible for the crash. It is a lower standard than a criminal threshold; thus it is easier to prove that someone should be civilly liable.

As such, if a driver is convicted of a crime, it can be used as prima facie evidence (i.e. at first glance) that a driver is guilty of failing to use reasonable care while driving, and that such a failure was the proximate cause of the accident.

This is why if you are being charged with a crime in connection with a car accident, having legal counsel is important for both cases.

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