When you’re injured as a result of someone else’s criminal conduct, the outcome of the criminal case can sometimes be cathartic—but it won’t compensate you for the losses you’ve suffered. While a criminal court may order a defendant to pay restitution, in most cases, an injured plaintiff must file a civil lawsuit against the criminal defendant to recover the damages they’re owed. We will discuss how civil litigation can proceed after a criminal case is resolved.
When Can a Civil Case Proceed?
A personal injury case may be warranted whenever someone is injured because of an institution’s or an individual’s negligent, reckless, or deliberate behavior. Often times, the actions that can spur such a claim don’t rise to criminal conduct, and the civil case can be filed at any time within the statute of limitations—in Florida, four years from the date of the injury. However, when a defendant is criminally charged for the actions that led to an injury, the civil case may be “stayed” (or paused) to allow the criminal matter to play out. Otherwise, a civil plaintiff can find it tough to access enough information to prove their case.
For example, the Fifth Amendment provides protection against self-incrimination in criminal cases. This means that if criminal charges are pending and a civil plaintiff tries to take the defendant’s deposition, the defendant may be able to assert their Fifth Amendment privilege and avoid answering any questions. Even though this privilege doesn’t apply in civil cases, because the defendant’s answers could be used in the criminal proceedings, they may be able to avoid responding to discovery requests.
For this reason, and others, many civil plaintiffs opt to file their case and then request that it be put on hold until the criminal case has been resolved. Not only can this minimize discovery disputes, but it can also streamline the issues that will need to be proven in the civil case and, sometimes, encourage the settlement of claims. There are a few exceptions to this general rule. If the civil plaintiff’s injuries are severe enough that he or she is unlikely to see the case to trial, the civil case may be allowed to proceed before the criminal claims have been resolved. The same goes for situations in which crucial civil evidence is likely to be lost before the criminal case has concluded; in these cases, the civil judge may allow subpoenas to be issued and evidence to be gathered even while the case is otherwise stayed.
Do Civil Plaintiffs Need to Participate in Criminal Proceedings?
The state controls the pace (and existence) of a criminal proceeding against a defendant, regardless of whether the injured party wishes to file charges. The state also determines when to extend a plea agreement to the defendant and what terms will be included.
On the other hand, a civil case lies entirely within the plaintiff’s control. While a civil plaintiff may elect to participate in the criminal proceedings by testifying against the defendant or providing information to the prosecution, the plaintiff has no duties or obligations in the criminal matter, and may still use information uncovered in the criminal matter to pursue a civil judgment.
Is a Criminal Conviction Necessary?
Even if a criminal case ends in acquittal or dismissal, this doesn’t mean that a civil case can’t proceed. In criminal cases, the state must prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt; meanwhile, in civil matters, the plaintiff needs only to prove the necessary elements through a preponderance of the evidence. This means that some evidence that may not have been admissible in the criminal trial (or, if admissible, wasn’t enough to sway all members of the jury) can be used to prove the plaintiff’s case.
Furthermore, because a criminal conviction generally requires the intent to cause harm, while civil liability does not, a criminal acquittal due to the defendant’s lack of intent won’t prevent a civil victory. The civil plaintiff can also use the findings that were made in the criminal case as evidence without needing to re-prove these allegations. This can make the civil case far less expensive to prosecute than it would be had there been no criminal case in the first place.
If you have questions about how your case can transition from criminal to civil, and what it means for you receiving the compensation you deserve, call Andrew Pickett Law today. We thoroughly investigate every single case so that we are ready to go to trial if need be. We don’t stop fighting until you have the tools you need to become whole again. Call us today to get started on your civil case 321-503-4014.