If you have been injured in an accident and the other driver is facing criminal charges, you are probably wondering how that might affect you. In Georgia, criminal prosecutions and civil personal injury cases are entirely separate, though often related, legal matters. So, even if the driver who caused the accident in which you were hurt has been ticketed for a traffic violation or charged with a more serious crime, it is important to consult with a Georgia car accident attorney so that you can pursue a personal injury claim and be compensated for your losses.
Often times, a driver who causes an accident will face both civil and criminal legal actions. Drunk driving accidents are some of the most common occurrences that lead to this situation. Divers who are drunk or impaired by drugs will be charged with DUI, and in addition to the criminal proceeding handled by the local prosecutor, they can expect to be held liable for civil damages by anyone they hurt in the accident.
What if the criminal charges against the driver who hurt me are dismissed?
Although it can be disheartening to learn that the prosecutor has dismissed the charges that were filed against the person responsible for your injuries, that does not necessarily mean that you do not have a legitimate personal injury claim, nor does it prevent a lawyer from obtaining a recovery for you. There are different legal issues and standards of proof in civil and criminal cases. In a criminal prosecution, the State of Georgia must prove each element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a lot of criminal cases, there just isn’t enough evidence to prove the defendant is guilty, which leads a lot of prosecutors – who are burdened with hundreds of cases at any given time – to dismiss the charges and move on to the next file. Even where there is not enough evidence to move forward with a criminal prosecution against the driver who caused your accident, your personal injury lawyer may successfully pursue a civil claim on your behalf.
What if the jury finds the defendant not guilty in the criminal case?
A not guilty verdict does not always mean that the defendant did not commit the crime for which he was being prosecuted. Due to the complicated rules of evidence and extremely high burden of proof in criminal cases, guilty verdicts often mean nothing more than the prosecutor failed to prove the case with the evidence he or she was able to present to the jury. A not guilty verdict certainly does not mean that you have no chance of winning your personal injury lawsuit. In civil cases, the plaintiff has a much lower burden of proof as compared to the prosecution in a criminal case. Your personal injury attorney needs to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the at-fault driver was negligent (i.e., careless), and that his or her negligence caused your injuries. This standard requires the jury to return a verdict in your favor if your lawyer can show that it was more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence resulted in you being hurt.
What if the defendant pleads guilty to the charges or the jury returns a guilty verdict?
A guilty plea or jury verdict in the criminal proceeding against the driver who caused an accident will be strong evidence of his or her negligence in a personal injury lawsuit. If, for instance, a driver pleads guilty to DUI, or even the lesser offense of reckless driving, your car accident attorney can introduce this plea in the civil case to show that the driver was acting negligently at the time of the wreck. This type of evidence can even support an award of punitive damages in some cases.
Can you recover money from an at-fault driver in a criminal case?
Judges who preside over criminal prosecutions have the ability to require the defendant to pay restitution to the victim. When a criminal defendant in Georgia has caused an accident that involves personal injuries or property damage, this means that he or she can be forced to pay for things like the victim’s medical expenses and vehicle repair bills. However, in a lot of criminal cases the prosecutor will assume that the victim is pursuing these types of economic damages in a civil suit, and the issue of restitution will never be presented to the judge. This is one of the reasons why it is important that you consult with an experienced personal injury attorney after an accident.
If you or a family member has been seriously injured in an accident and the other driver is facing criminal charges, call the Athens Injury Law Group at 706-559-0159 or contact us here.