Consequences for an action that leads to an injury or property damage can range between civil and criminal. At the Law Office of Todd W. Burris, we sometimes meet with clients who are curious about the difference between civil and criminal liability.
While these two forms of liability sometimes overlap in personal injury cases, it is important to have a strong understanding of what they are and how they differ. We’ll explore the meanings of civil and criminal liability below as well as highlight their differences, but we understand that not every question can be addressed in a single article. If you still have questions after reading the following, or if we failed to touch on your specific concern, contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss this matter.
What Is Civil Liability?
Civil liability is an individual’s legal obligation to pay damages in a lawsuit or other court-ordered enforcement. You might be most familiar with civil liability in the sense of paying damages for the following types of claims:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents
- Premises liability
- Nursing home abuse
In Kentucky civil law, a defendant named in a personal injury claim may be found either “liable” or “not liable.” The liable party in a civil case is required to make remedies to the victim, often in the form of financial compensation for their damages. We frequently seek compensation for the following damages on behalf of our personal injury clients:
- Lost wages and reduced earning ability
- Past, current, and future medical expenses
- Property damage, including auto repair bills
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment in life
In most accident cases, it is the at-fault party’s insurer who is required to pay out these damages. As for-profit businesses, insurance companies typically try to downplay liability and minimize settlement payouts at all costs. Proving civil liability in such cases often requires the continuous support of an attorney who is familiar with all local, state, and federal laws that apply to your case.
What Is Criminal Liability?
When an individual’s act or omission is in violation of Kentucky state or federal law, a crime has been committed. Criminal liability refers to their culpability or legal responsibility for committing a criminal act.
The criminal prosecution process involves the government (either state or federal) deciding whether a defendant should be punished for their actions. A defendant might be facing a criminal allegation for any number of reasons, including:
- Driving while intoxicated
- Breaking and entering
Why Does the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Liability Matter?
Civil liability seeks to right the wrongful act committed by one person against another. Criminal liability involves the government taking action to punish an individual who violated the law. While in both types of law, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff (the one bringing the claim or charges), they differ in a key way:
- Civil cases require a preponderance of the evidence
- Criminal cases require evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
It is much easier to prove liability in a civil case. Depending on the type of claim you are pursuing, you and your lawyer might be able to construct a reasonably strong case in a matter of weeks or months. More complex cases, particularly lawsuits involving steep settlements, may take longer.
The timeline for criminal cases is much longer. The pretrial period between an arrest and a conviction in court can eat up months or years of people’s lives as information and evidence are gathered by pretrial service officers and attorneys.
Where Does Civil and Criminal Liability Overlap?
There are times when civil and criminal liability overlaps in a single case. This occurs when a person’s actions violate a civil duty of care to another person as well as the law. To better understand this concept, we can consider a drunk driver who caused an accident in which another person was injured.
Acting in a negligent or reckless manner that causes an accident with injuries violates the duty of care that all motorists in Kentucky have to avoid causing harm to others on the road. The act of being behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol violates Kentucky law that prohibits driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08%. In this case, the drunk driver would be both civilly and criminally liable for their actions.
Criminal charges are not a prerequisite for civil action, meaning you may still pursue a personal injury claim for a car accident even if the at-fault driver was not charged with any crime. However, in the event that the reckless driver was arrested and charged with a crime, you may rely on the evidence used to make that arrest to support your injury claim.
The Law Office of Todd W. Burris Is Here for You
Just because the burden of proof is lower in a civil claim does not mean that securing the compensation you are owed will be an easy process. Most insurance companies will stop at nothing to lowball your settlement, cutting you off from the invaluable compensation that you need for your recovery. We are familiar with the tricks that the big insurers use, and we never let them bully our clients into accepting anything less than full and fair compensation.
Do not let the clock run out on your right to take legal action. Kentucky state law creates limits known as statutes of limitations on civil actions and failing to file your claim within that time limit forfeits your right to compensation. You can discuss the potential merits of your case and whether there is anyone to hold civilly liable during your complimentary case evaluation. We never charge for the first meeting, and there is never any obligation to move forward with our law firm.