The Effect of a Criminal Conviction on a New York Personal Injury Case
Learn about how your claim for money damages could be affected by a criminal conviction within a personal injury case.
Backgroundf you've been injured either in a car or truck accident, or as the result of an intentionally harmful act committed against you, you have a right to compensation for those injuries. While many at-fault parties in a personal injury lawsuit have acted in a way that makes them financially liable to the victims of their mistakes, most haven't broken criminal laws as the result of their careless conduct. Sometimes, however, the person who hurt you was breaking New York law by acting in the way that caused your injuries, and they will face criminal prosecution for their actions. Perhaps you were injured by a drunk driver, or perhaps you were the victim of a violent assault that left physical and emotional scars-- both these acts and many others could result in both criminal penalties imposed by the government, and civil liability to you as the victim.
The difference between a criminal and civil trialWhen someone commits an illegal act, they run the risk of facing criminal charges. These charges are brought by the government prosecutor for either the city or state in which the crime occurred. Trials based on criminal charges will take place in a criminal courtroom and result in potential jail time. Crimes don't always have individual victims, but when they do, the victims also have the right to file a claim against the person who committed the crime against them. However, when an individual files a claim against someone who hurt them, the trial takes place in a civil courtroom with the help of a private civil attorney, and the potential result is that if the defendant is found liable, they will owe the victim money damages.
Evidence of a conviction can be helpful proof at trialOften, crime victims who wish to file a civil lawsuit against the person who injured them may have to wait before pursuing their private lawsuit until the criminal trial has completed or the defendant has pleaded guilty to the charges. This delay can feel frustrating when you're eager for justice or in need of financial help after an injury. That said, a criminal conviction can be extremely useful in a civil trial based on the same incident, ending up saving you time and expense in your personal injury lawsuit. You can use the fact that the defendant was convicted in a criminal trial in your civil lawsuit to help prove that the defendant committed the act that hurt you, which is often a time-consuming component of a civil trial. Once a defendant is convicted and sentenced, that individual is not allowed to re-litigate the factual issues underlying the conviction in a subsequent legal matter. As the plaintiff in your civil case, this situation would typically enable you to obtain summary judgment on the issue of the defendant's liability, and the only issue left for the judge or jury to decide is the amount of damages the defendant owes you.
Even if the person who hurt you isn't convicted in a criminal trial, you may still have a solid basis to file a civil lawsuit against that person. As you've probably heard on TV crime dramas, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the crime "beyond a reasonable doubt." This is a much harder standard to meet than that applied in civil trials, requiring stronger and more conclusive proof. In civil trials, judges and juries will require that the plaintiff proves with a "preponderance of the evidence" that the defendant is liable; in other words, that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the acts that caused your injuries, and should be required to compensate you for them.