Charges: The Civil And The Criminal

Posted on: 22 May 2015


Most of the time, car accidents are filed as civil cases. People who are injured sue for compensation, and insurance companies do their best to minimize total damages. However, there are some cases where car accidents come with criminal charges-- where the at-fault driver could serve jail time and have a criminal record because of the nature of the accident. As an at-fault driver, you might be wondering how criminal charges are determined for car accident cases, and these charges will affect civil suits. 

When are criminal charges filed?

Car accidents have varying degrees of seriousness. Usually, additional circumstances that directly affect the victims in the accident can result in criminal charges. For example, you might be facing prosecution by the state if:

  • you were driving the car while under the influence of alcohol. A simple accident, like crashing into a light post, might simple mean a DUI charge. However, if your accident results in the death of one or more people, you could see a charge for involuntary or voluntary manslaughter
  • you were knowingly driving well above the posted speed limit. For example, if you hit a pedestrian while going 70 miles an hour in a 40 mile zone, this would be seen as negligent or recklessness on your part. Manslaughter or, in some cases murder, would be the resulting charge. Murder charges might come if you knew the area had a high chance of being populated, or that there was a high chance of hitting someone where you were driving. An active school zone would be an example of this kind of area. 
  • you had children or other passengers in the car while also driving negligently. Even if no one is hurt, reckless endangerment or child endangerment are both criminal charges.
  • you were the instigator of a hit-and-run and the victim suffered injury or death as a result. Instigating a hit-and-run automatically brings a case into the criminal realm. If someone dies, additional charges will be added.

Each car accident case is different, so you should always follow the advice of your car accident lawyer, especially if you face any of the above criminal charges.

Will there always be criminal charges if someone dies?

The issue of accidental death is difficult to handle, but if someone did die, there is still a chance that you will be found not-guilty for the deaths of car accident victims. For example, some conditions cause accidents, and even though you might be the "at fault" driver, you can prove that there was no way to prevent the accident from occurring, or that further harm would have resulted if you avoided the situation.

For example, if a child runs into the road, and you swerve the miss that child, and then spin out of control because road conditions are not ideal, you might still be responsible for civil damages. However, you would not be criminally responsible for the resulting deaths because you were intending to drive responsibly and were met with obstacles outside of your own control.

How do criminal charges affect a civil case?

Usually, these trials are held independently from each other. However, jury convictions from a criminal case can help prove liabilities in a civil disputes. For example, if you are found guilt of manslaughter in your criminal case before your civil case is settled, the ruling can be used as proof of wrongful death. 

Criminal charges attached to car accident cases can be difficult to understand and litigate. However, with the help of a car accident lawyer, you should be able to navigate both the civil and the criminal charges with greater ease. With the help of a lawyer, you can get reduced sentencing, or even have the criminal charge removed entirely, depending on your case. Look at sites like for more information.