A person who negligently operates a motor vehicle or watercraft can be subject to both civil and criminal liability for their conduct, allowing two or more court proceedings to proceed simultaneously in response to a single incident. Although the procedures, burdens of proof, and consequences of liability for criminal and civil claims against a negligent party may vary, both types of cases play a role in holding reckless or negligent people accountable for their actions. A recently published news report discusses criminal charges being brought against the operator of a watercraft that was involved in a fatal crash near Boston harbor this July.
According to the news report, the operator of a boat that crashed into a fixed navigational beacon and ultimately sunk is being charged with manslaughter as a result of the incident. These criminal charges are proceeding independently of any civil claims that may be brought by the family of the woman who drowned after the crash. Criminal and civil claims based on negligent conduct follow different procedures from each other.
A criminal complaint is brought on behalf of the government (usually a state or municipality) in response to alleged criminal conduct. Unlike a civil suit, a criminal conviction does not necessarily require any victim to suffer an injury, meaning that a reckless motorist can be convicted of a crime for their conduct even if nobody was injured during the incident. Criminal convictions, however, do require the government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a higher burden of proof than the standard needed to prove civil liability (civil liability must only be proven by the preponderance of the evidence). Because of this higher burden of proof, criminal convictions are generally more difficult to obtain than a civil judgment.