What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Wrongful Death Case?

By Chris Dixon


It can be difficult to distinguish the difference between a civil and criminal wrongful death case, but there are several elements that differ between civil and criminal cases. The main difference between civil and criminal wrongful death cases is who the claim is filed against and the severity of the accident at hand, but what most people don’t realize is that an offense can be subjected to both civil and criminal standards. If you have lost someone in a sudden accident and are unsure whether their case qualifies as a civil case, criminal case, or both, an experienced lawyer can analyze your wrongful death case and plan accordingly for recovering damages from the negligent party.

What is a Civil Wrongful Death Case?

Civil wrongful death cases generally pertain to accidents where one or both parties involved are seeking damages from one another with a direct claim, whereas criminal wrongful death cases are directed toward accidents that involve the state. Civil wrongful death cases are not always granted the right to be heard by a jury, whereas criminal cases almost always allow for a trial. Other areas that differ between civil and criminal cases include punishment, types of proof, and rights to protection (illegal searches and seizure, electronic surveillance) under the Fourth Amendment.

If you lost someone close to you because of another person’s negligence, it can be difficult to understand the elements involved with a wrongful death case without adequate legal knowledge. Hiring a wrongful death lawyer to represent your case breaks down the wrongful death process for you, determines whether you have a civil or criminal case at hand, and provides you with support during this trying time. An experienced wrongful death lawyer knows the ins and outs of the legal system, understands the best tactics for both civil and criminal cases, and will make the process as streamlined as possible for you and your family.

Elements Involved with Civil and Criminal Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death cases, whether civil or criminal, require proof of death and causation, evidence of negligence, and proof that surviving family members have experienced a loss of income or other tremendous losses because of the victim’s death. Most civil wrongful death cases are settled out of court through methods of mediation and negotiation and held to lower standards of proof, while criminal wrongful death cases can go to trial or settled out of court, but must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt“.

The consequences for civil and criminal wrongful death cases differ greatly, but can be combined depending on the circumstances of the case. Civil wrongful death cases typically result in the negligent party compensating a victims’ family for damages caused by the accident such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. In criminal wrongful death cases the responsible party faces compensating a victim’s family for damages, jail time, and fines mandated by the judge as punishment.

The settlement that a victim’s family can recover for their family member’s pain and suffering is reached through mediation and negotiation by a lawyer. Settlements are often reached within a matter of months when negotiated outside of court, but criminal cases that go to trial can stretch on for months or even years depending on the case, which is why it’s crucial to have an experienced lawyer represent your case. A lawyer can shorten the amount of time it takes to reach a settlement, re-display evidence to support your case, and fully support you and your family during this difficult time.

Do Wrongful Death Cases Always Go to Trial?

The majority of criminal cases do not go to trial, and reach a plea bargain before going to court. Approximately 97% of federal civil cases and 94% of criminal state cases end via plea bargain. Criminal cases almost always have the option to go to trial before a judge and jury, but most civil cases are decided by a judge.

Taking a wrongful death case to trial, while time-consuming and expensive, can be beneficial to a wrongful death case, but it’s essential to be aware of the risks associated with this. Cases should only be taken to trial if a lawyer is absolutely certain that there is no doubt that a case will win; if a case goes to trial and there is even a slight chance that it won’t win, the defendant risks recovering less compensation than they could have received from settling, or in some cases, not recovering compensation whatsoever.

How Can a Wrongful Death Lawyer Help With My Case?

If you lost someone you care about in an accident that was caused by another person’s negligence, you could be eligible to recover compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering. Typically, both civil and criminal wrongful death cases are able to recover medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, and pain and suffering that stemmed from an accident, but this requires legal representation to obtain the maximum amount of damages. If you or someone you know has lost someone close to them because of another person’s negligence, contact the Dixon Injury Firm today to discuss your case, the differences between a civil and criminal wrongful death case, and determine your eligibility to file a claim on the behalf the victim.

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