The drivers who cause motor vehicle accidents and then choose to drive away can be held accountable for their actions in criminal and/or civil court. These two processes are very different, but they are not intended to compete.
Listed below are five distinctions of note:
- A criminal charge punishes, while a civil claim compensates. Incarceration, restitution or community service, amongst other things, are intended to punish the driver in a criminal case. A civil suit focuses on the victim’s needs, including tangible and intangible losses.
- The injured person is a party to a civil suit. The government files criminal charges against the hit-and-run driver. The injured person does not have control or final say in a plea agreement. The injured party has access to all civil proceedings and final say in any settlement negotiations.
- The injured party is considered the victim of a civil offense. Certain actions are made illegal based on public policy reasons, and thus a crime is technically an offense against the state, even though an individual victim was involved. The injured party is the victim for all intents and purposes in a civil suit.
- The at-fault driver has less protections than in criminal court. Defendants in criminal cases have certain legal protections and rights that are paramount. For example, the state will provide an attorney if the defendant cannot afford one. A civil defendant must hire their own.
- A civil claim requires a lesser standard of proof than a criminal charge. The government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof. The evidentiary standard of proof is lower in a civil claim for damages.
People who are injured in a hit-and-run accident should get the police involved, but they should also consult with a personal injury attorney immediately. It is important to begin building your civil case as soon as possible, even if criminal charges have been filed.
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