For those who don't spend a lot of time in California courts, and for people who are trying to navigate the sometimes complicated and confusing names and phrases used in court, it can be confusing to know where to begin. One question that injured people often have is whether they need to file a lawsuit, and if so, what kind of lawsuit? Because every case is different, and the costs of going it alone in court can be high (not to mention incredibly confusing for many people), it is advisable to speak with a lawyer who is familiar with the kind of case you have. One basic distinction is between civil cases and criminal cases.
If you were injured by someone who intentionally hurt you, for example, the case falls in the criminal realm. This situation typically means the police were involved, and the person who caused the harm was either arrested or cited for criminal behavior. The State of California, through its district attorney offices, will pursue the case against the person who caused the harm. In a very basic sense, this means the state prosecutes the bad actor.
In some situations, however, the injured person may file a civil claim against the person who hurt them during the crime. Think about O.J. Simpson, for example. The state tried him for murder, for which he was famously found not guilty. But the family of Nicole Brown pursued a civil suit against O.J. Simpson as well. The legal theories involved are not important to understand in depth. Because O.J. Simpson was a wealthy man, if the family prevailed in their lawsuit, the court could enforce the judgment and make sure O.J. paid (or continues to pay, over a long period of time), the money awarded in a verdict. A civil case may also include "punitive" damages, which are meant as a punishment against the wrong actor, as was awarded in the Simpson case.
The O.J. Simpson case is unique, however, in that the money of the civil verdict was actually paid out to the Brown family. What if O.J. was a poor man at the time of the alleged crime, and remained poor throughout the civil trial? The reality is, even if the jury in the civil trial had awarded millions and millions of dollars, in most situations the Brown family would never have seen a penny of it. Which, in real life, means the case would likely never be brought to trial in the first place. Why? Because most lawyers (there are exceptions, but generally speaking) would not take a civil case to trial when there would be almost zero chance of actually ever seeing payment of the money.
There are many situations that call for both a civil and criminal case. For example, if you or someone you love were injured by a drunk driver, the State of California may pursue the drunk driver in criminal court in order to protect the public. However, the criminal case is about the state taking a dangerous individual off the roads, and possibly putting him or her behind bars. But what about the person or people who were injured by the drunk driver? In order to be compensated, they would need to pursue the drunk driver in a negligence claim, or in civil court. Of course, the issue of who would end up paying arises, and unlike the O.J. Simpson example, the drunk driver, if he had insurance, would be covered for this very situation. Thus, the injured person could open a claim with the drunk driver's insurance company and, if navigated correctly, could resolve this issue without ever having to go to court, and could receive to maximum amount of money the insurance policy covered the drunk driver for.
In the previous example of the drunk driver who injured someone, there is a common misconception that the injured person must wait for the criminal proceeding to finish. This is not accurate. By contacting an injury law firm in California that handles these hybrid cases, the injured person or persons can move forward with their claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company. A good injury attorney will be able to finalize this portion often before the criminal case is even underway. This is, it should be clear, a very general description of how a situation like this example might be handled, and anyone who was injured or who has loved ones who were injured by a drunk driver should not rely on this post for legal advice; they should immediately contact a lawyer or law firm for legal counsel.
So, Which Case to File?
The reality is, if your situation calls for a criminal proceeding, the police will handle it. If the police aren't aware of what happened, they need to be. Once the police are aware of a criminal act that resulted in injury, a report and investigation will commence, and they will handle it from there. In the civil arena, an experienced and skilled injury law firm may be able to get to the bottom of your case before ever filing a lawsuit. Lawsuits take a lot of time, cost a lot of money, and after all that, don't guarantee that the injured person will recover any more money than if the case settles out of court in the pre-litigation phase. For this reason, an injury attorney may be able to give you an evaluation that will at a bare minimum help you understand where your case or claim stands, and what the possible scenarios are in the future. If you're lucky, you won't ever have to file a lawsuit or step foot in a courtroom, and you'll still end up with the same result as if you had.
The Lions Injury Lawyers P.C. are located in Orange County (OC) California, and help injured persons throughout the State of California. They offer free case evaluations by an attorney. That means you'll be speaking with an actual lawyer, not a salesman who is paid to sign up your case and won't hear a thing about it the day after he signs you up. Don't live in Orange County, or your case didn't happen in Southern California or OC? No problem. The Lions represent clients throughout the state of California, and their handling of your claim won't differ a bit from if you lived right down the street in Irvine, Newport Beach, or Costa Mesa. A brief phone call with an experienced injury attorney will give you peace of mind, and help you look at your situation from a new perspective. The Lions Injury Lawyers can compare your case with thousands of cases in the past, which allows them to estimate how many variables will play out for you. The contents of this blog post are for information purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal counsel for your case or claim, or for anyone looking for legal advice. The contents of this blog post are intended to educate people, not as legal counsel.