In addition to negligence or recklessness, some Massachusetts car accidents stem from an at-fault party’s criminal conduct. For example, a motorist who causes an accident because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol may face criminal charges in addition to civil claims. Although civil and criminal claims go through two distinct processes, the outcome of a criminal case may affect an individual’s civil suit. Criminal charges or a conviction may help a civil plaintiff’s claim, but they are not necessary to achieve a favorable outcome in a personal injury case.
There are many ways a criminal charge may affect a Massachusetts personal injury lawsuit. In cases where a criminal defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by a judge or jury, the ruling can be beneficial to civil plaintiffs. For example, if a motorist admits that he was driving under the influence when an accident occurred, a plaintiff can likely use this evidence to establish liability. However, defendants who are found not guilty are not absolved from responsibility for any civil claims. The outcome of these cases can be different because criminal and civil cases have independent standards of proof. Under the criminal system, the state must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”; whereas, under the civil system, plaintiffs only need to show that the defendant was liable “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Criminal defendants also retain the right to plead, “no contest.” This means that they are admitting the facts but not admitting guilt. No contest pleas cannot be used against a defendant in civil proceedings. For example, if a defendant pleads no contest in a driving while impaired criminal case, a plaintiff will not generally be allowed to use the conviction to show that the defendant was driving while impaired. Instead, the plaintiff may call arresting officers or present other evidence to establish that the defendant was under the influence.
Moreover, plaintiffs may proceed with a civil case, even if the state declines to pursue charges or drops charges against the defendant. Although a prosecutor may not be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed a crime, a civil plaintiff may still be able to prove that the defendant was negligent under a lower legal standard.
All this to say, in some cases, both civil and criminal cases may be brought. For example, a recent Boston news report described an accident that may result in criminal and civil charges against a defendant. In that case, a man was street racing when he lost control of his vehicle. After losing control, he slammed into two pedestrians, killing them immediately. The driver was arrested and charged for motor vehicle homicide and manslaughter. In this case, the man may face civil charges by the family of the individuals he killed, in addition to criminal charges from the state.
Have You Suffered Injuries in a Massachusetts Accident?
If you or someone you know has suffered injuries in a Massachusetts car accident, contact the Law Offices of Barry Feinstein and Affiliates, P.C. The lawyers at the Law Offices of Barry Feinstein and Affiliates P.C. have been fighting the big insurance companies for over 25 years, handling various personal injury lawsuits, including Massachusetts car accidents, medical malpractice, and wrongful death claims. We have recovered substantial compensation on behalf of our clients against negligent parties and insurance companies. Recovery in Massachusetts personal injury cases may include payments for medical bills, ongoing medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Contact our office at 800-262-9200 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.