Civil vs. Criminal Cases in Massachusetts Truck Accidents

shutterstock_302738369-300x200Too often, tragic accidents occur on the road without any warning. These freak accidents can happen at random and in the absence of any intent to cause harm. When a victim loses his or her life in an accident, the responsible party may face criminal and/or civil penalties. On many occasions, a responsible party may not face criminal charges, but the injured victim’s family may pursue monetary damages in a civil suit.

For example, a driver was killed on I-95 in Massachusetts last fall when a construction worker’s tool pierced the driver’s windshield. The worker was operating a ramp truck for his construction company when a steel tool on the bed of the truck cut through the windshield of the driver’s car, killing him almost instantly. His wife, a passenger in the car, was not injured. Right before he died, the driver pulled over to prevent his wife from being harmed in an accident.

Recently, a news article reported that the construction worker would not face criminal charges. Following an investigation into the accident, the District Attorney’s Office in Essex found insufficient evidence to support criminal charges.

What Are the Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases?

A person may not face criminal charges for a truck accident, but an injured victim can still sue that person and/or his employer for civil monetary damages. Similarly, a person can face criminal penalties, but a victim may decline to sue in civil court. There are several key differences between civil and criminal cases. First, depending on the crime, a criminal defendant who is found guilty of a crime might have to serve time in prison or pay punitive fines to the government, the victim, or a deceased victim’s family. Conversely, a civil defendant who is found liable for an accident may have to pay damages to the victim or the victim’s family. Less frequently, a civil plaintiff might also ask for injunctive relief. Unlike monetary damages, injunctive relief obligates the defendant to take certain actions, or it can stop a defendant from taking action. However, injunctive relief is only an available remedy when monetary damages are unavailable.

In addition to the different types of penalties, the burden of proof in criminal and civil cases represents another key difference between the two proceedings. In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove—and the jury must find—a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Under this standard, if even a shred of doubt exists about the defendant’s culpability, the defendant cannot be convicted of a crime. Conversely, because a defendant in a civil suit will not face prison time, the burden of proof is lower in civil lawsuits. To prevail in a civil case, the plaintiff need only prove her case by the preponderance of the evidence. This means the plaintiff must show it is more likely than not, or 51% likely, that the defendant is responsible for her harm.

Finally, the parties in criminal and civil cases can waive their right to a jury trial. In a criminal case, the defendant may take a plea deal, which is an admission of guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. A defendant in a civil case may negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiff, which is a monetary damages amount that both parties agree to in order to avoid a trial.

Have You Been Injured in a Massachusetts Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or died in a Massachusetts truck accident, contact the Neumann Law Group today. The skilled attorneys at our firm have experience representing victims of truck and other motor accidents in Massachusetts. Following a serious accident, we can help you explore your options and secure the compensation you need and deserve. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call our office at 800-525-6386.


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