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Can a Civil and Criminal Suit Happen at the Same Time?

If you were injured due to the criminal negligence of another person, you can bring a congruent civil claim against them regardless of any active or pending criminal charges. This might be surprising information for some, becuase criminal charges are often portrayed as the forefront of proceedings following a serious accident. However, the criminal case, which brings the at-fault party to justice, usually happens at the same time as the civil case, which gets the victim or their family compensation for their damages. In the field of personal injury law, this situation most commonly arises among victims of hit-and-runs or accidents caused by someone who was driving under the influence. 

How Will Criminal Charges Affect A Civil Case?

In most cases, the claim is brought against an insurance company rather than a person. While the at-fault party is listed as a defendant, they don’t necessarily have to be involved in the case. If they are charged with any criminal behavior, they may not be able to fully participate in the proceedings of the case, depending on if they are incarcerated or not. If they are unable to attend, the claims process can still continue. Previous statements, or in the case of a trial, depositions, can be used to continue without the defendant.

Aside from the participation of the defendant, there may also be further complications during the claims process in the form of obtaining information about the case, known as discovery. The attorney representing the defendant on the civil case may withhold information from the plaintiff if it is potentially incriminating for their client's criminal case. While this is not something protected under the fifth amendment as one might think, it is still allowed. Many states have broad laws that restrict access to documents and evidence involved in open criminal investigations. Because of this, opposing counsel may legally allowed to withhold information that would help move the civil case along more quickly. This may lead people to believe that you have to wait until the conclusion of a criminal investigation to begin the claims process or pursue a civil complaint since you may not have access to all the necessary evidence. However, the statute of limitations may expire before a criminal case can be concluded, so it is best to file the claim as soon as possible to avoid a scenario in which a victim or theier family get nothing. 

Depending on the severity of the injuries, the difficulty to obtain information pertinent to the case may be higher or lower. If there was a death, it may be difficult to obtain information from the opposing side, but typically we see them settle for the policy limits, meaning all available funds. However, if there are just injuries and no death, then things can become even more difficult because the insurance company will think that they have room to argue how much money is a fair settlement.

Should You Get a Lawyer for a Case Against Someone Who Has Criminal Charges?

If there are known criminal charges pending against the at-fault party in your case, it is best to immediately consult a personal injury attorney. The claims process can be lengthy with information being difficult to acquire from opposing counsel, it is best not to risk the statue of limitations expiring during the negotiations process. An experienced attorney will be able to use the leverage they hold to better move along the process and get you the settlement you deserve.

If you or someone you know was the victim of an accident caused by criminal negligence, you can request a free consultation with the legal team at Davis Law Group by using the chat or contact form on this page, or by calling 206-727-4000.