If you are injured because of another party’s negligence, the incident may result in a civil case and a criminal case. 

When an individual injures another person while breaking the law, the individual could be charged with a crime and face civil penalties from the victims. For example, if a drunk driver causes an accident, the driver may be charged with one or more DUI offenses. If the accident caused injuries to other people, each of those people may have a civil claim against the drunk driver. 

Indeed, several personal injury claims may have a corresponding criminal case, including assault, DUI accidents, police brutalitydog bites, nursing home abuse, and wrongful death. It can help to understand your role in each of the cases if you are an accident victim seeking compensation for your damages.

Personal Injury Claims – Criminal Cases

In the above example, we described a drunk driving causing an accident. The police officers investigating the crash believe they have probable cause to arrest the driver for driving under the influence. They continue to investigate the crash, administer field sobriety tests, and use a breathalyzer. 

The findings at the accident scene support an arrest for DUI, according to the police. Therefore, the person who caused your injuries is put behind bars. Do you have a say in the matter?

No, once the prosecutor files charges, the state is in charge of the criminal case. You may be called as a witness, but you cannot request the charges be dropped. The prosecutor may ask your opinion and ask if you want to make a witness impact statement, but the prosecutor does not have to follow your wishes.

The results of the criminal case should not impact your civil case. The criminal charges may be dropped or dismissed by the court, but your civil case continues. The matters are separate. You could still win the civil case even if the criminal case ends with the person being released back into society. 

Personal Injury Claims – Civil Cases

Personal injury claims are civil cases. Most injury claims are based on negligence, strict liability, premises liability, and product liability. The cases use the reasonable person standard to determine if the defendant was negligent and liable for the victim’s injuries and damages.

If a victim proves the legal elements for negligence or another civil cause of action, the victim is entitled to recover compensation for their damages. 

Damages in a civil court action may include:

  • The cost of diagnosing and treating the injury, including medical bills for hospital stays, surgeries, physicians, testing, medications, therapy, etc.
  • The cost of personal care, long-term care facilities, or rehabilitation facilities
  • The loss of income, including wages, benefits, salaries, and future decreases in earning potential
  • Permanent impairments, disabilities, scarring, and disfigurement
  • Emotional, mental, and physical pain and suffering
  • Decrease in quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life

The jury decides whether the plaintiff is entitled to a monetary judgment in a civil trial. The jury also decides how much the plaintiff’s damages are worth.

As stated above, the civil case and the criminal case are separate. For example, a family may file a wrongful death lawsuit even though the state decides not to charge the at-fault party with homicide or murder. Likewise, an accident victim could file a civil lawsuit related to a car crash even if the police officer did not find the other driver at fault or issue a traffic ticket to the other driver.

Statutes of Limitations for Civil Cases

The Oklahoma statute of limitations sets a deadline on when the injured party may file a civil lawsuit. In many personal injury cases, the victim has just two years after the injury to file a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations expires, the court dismisses the lawsuit. 

Some exceptions exist for this rule. For example, children may have longer to file a lawsuit when the injury occurs before they turn 18 years of age. However, claims involving government entities may have a shorter deadline for filing a notice of claim; you could have just a few months to file or lose your right to seek compensation for damages.

It can be in your best interest to talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The attorney calculates the deadline for filing claims, provides an honest assessment of your claim, and answers your questions regarding filing a lawsuit to recover money for a personal injury claim.