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. You still have bills to pay.
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 Suit after a Criminal Conviction 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. Oftentimes, the actions that can spur such a claim don’t rise to criminal conduct, and the civil litigation 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.
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Why Would the Case Be Stayed?
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.
Is It Always a Good Idea to Stay the Civil Case?
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 litigation 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 have been had there been no criminal case in the first place.
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What About the Statute of Limitations?
The state can schedule when they wish to hold a criminal trial, but if they take too long that could threaten your civil lawsuit. All personal injury claimants must start their lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out or lose their right to sue.
Fortunately, Florida allows four years to file a personal injury lawsuit in most circumstances. This gives you and the state plenty of time to start your cases. However, there are some situations where the deadline could be much tighter.
Your personal injury attorney can tell you which deadlines apply to your situation and file the necessary paperwork to keep your case alive while the criminal case proceeds.
Can My Civil Case Help the Prosecution?
It’s possible. A successful civil judgment in your favor could convince a prosecutor that more attention needs to be paid to the criminal charges. They may not have decided to move forward with a case until more evidence was found.
Even though civil cases are judged at a lower evidentiary standard, it is still proof that there is enough there that a possible criminal case could be successful. If the state drags its feet in pressing charges, your civil case could push the criminal case forward.
Our Attorneys Are Here to Answer your Legal Questions
If you have questions about how your case can transition from criminal to civil, and what it means for you to receive the compensation you deserve, call Andrew Pickett Law, your Melbourne personal injury attorney, 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.