Civil cases are based on injury and harm. They form an area of law known as “torts,” but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely separate from crimes.
Legally, the two are separate. Personal injury claims fall under Part III of the Massachusetts General Laws while criminal cases fall under Part IV. But often criminal cases give rise to civil claims.
That’s because a criminal prosecution doesn’t directly benefit the victim. So when a crime results in injury that racks up medical costs and other bills, a civil case is the best option.
But the outcome of the criminal case can have a big impact.
When it comes to civil cases, most often the claim is related to negligence which means the plaintiff has a few things to prove.
The first is a legal duty on the part of the defendant. The second is that the defendant failed in that duty. The third is that the defendant’s actions caused the harm. And lastly, the plaintiff has to prove that the harm can be compensated.
When it comes to a criminal trial, essentially what the prosecution is proving is that harm was caused.
If that’s established with a guilty verdict at trial, that decision could be used as evidence in the related civil case. That’s one less thing you have to prove to the jury.
That still applies if the defendant pleads guilty without a trial. But if he pleads “no contest,” the criminal case can’t be used in a civil hearing.
And what if the defendant is found not guilty?
While that won’t help your case, it also won’t hurt it. Civil and criminal cases have different burdens of proof. That means a defendant can be found not guilty in criminal trial, but still liable in a civil hearing.
You remember the OJ Simpson trial, right? He wasn’t convicted of murder, but he had to pay damages to Nicole Brown’s family.
Whether or not you choose to use a criminal conviction to help win your case, the asset you need most is a lawyer. It pays to have someone on your side.
- Civil Cases vs. Criminal Cases - Key Differences (FindLaw)
- Proof in a Negligence Case (FindLaw)
- More Questions About Civil lawsuits? Ask an Expert (FindLaw Answers)