Crimes and Crashes
Normally, when someone is in an auto accident, the matter is pursued in civil court, with the plaintiff seeking damages from the defendant. However, in some auto accidents, such as the alleged shooting on Thanksgiving night on I-10, near Loop 410, both a civil cause of action and a crime may have occurred. If you have been in an accident of this type, it is easy to be confused about what is civil, what is criminal, and what your role is in either or both actions.
The majority of auto accident cases wind up as civil actions, if they go to court at all because usually no laws are broken. Civil cases are mounted by one private person against another, or against an entity deemed to have been negligent. Money damages are being sought, as opposed to jail time, usually as recompense for injuries sustained (medical bills, but also lost wages, lost quality of life, and lifestyle adjustments like needing a wheelchair or an addition to one’s home, and so on). In some states, there are caps on damages for intangible causes of action, such as lost quality of life, but as of this writing, Texas does not have one except in medical malpractice cases. This means you can sue for as much as you believe you can get - with the caveat that the amount will almost certainly be reduced by a jury.
Once a civil action goes to trial, Texas uses a modified comparative fault rule to determine whether a plaintiff can recover, which means that if a plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault for their own injuries, they cannot recover. This means that even if a plaintiff is responsible for part of their own injuries, as long as it is less than half, they can collect an award from the defendant (minus the percentage they are ruled at fault). A defendant may wind up being judgment proof, however, meaning that they lack the resources to pay the award.
By comparison with civil actions, criminal cases are brought by the state of Texas (or whichever state the accident happens in) against an individual who has been seen to break the law or is alleged to have broken the law. If they are convicted by a jury of their peers, they are found guilty (as opposed to civil cases, where one is found liable). Criminal cases may be resolved by a fine or community service, but most of the time, jail or prison time is assessed. Auto accidents turn criminal when someone has broken a law in causing one - for example, if they drink and drive, or leave the scene of an accident, which is a crime in Texas if damage, injury or death is caused.
Criminal and civil cases are entirely separate, so if a person is found liable in a civil case, it does not mean they will automatically be found guilty in a criminal case. It is possible that findings from a criminal case (which is usually prosecuted first, if both are possible to mount, just because if someone is found guilty it can affect their ability to pay) will be admissible at your civil case. However, this is not necessarily the case - the criminal matter must have a direct impact on the civil case. For example, in a DUI case, evidence of breaking the law can be used to make it easier to prove negligence.
Call a New Braunfels Auto Accident Attorney Today
Regardless of whether someone goes to jail or not, an auto accident is frightening for all involved, and enlisting a dedicated personal injury lawyer right away can help ensure that your medical bills are paid. The skilled New Braunfels car accident lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm are happy to sit down with you and try as best we can to answer your questions. Contact us today at 888-392-0039 to schedule a free consultation.