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By Jarome Gautreaux

The intersection between criminal and personal injury law in Georgia often presents challenges and considerations for all parties involved. When an individual commits a crime that results in harm to another person, such as in cases of Driving Under The Influence (DUI), assault, or negligence, this not only could open the door to criminal prosecution but can also lay the foundation for a civil personal injury lawsuit. This crossover is particularly significant because while the criminal case seeks to punish the wrongdoer and uphold public justice, the personal injury case focuses on compensating the victim for their losses and suffering. Understanding the distinctions between these parallel legal paths is crucial for those navigating the complexities of Georgia’s legal system, as outcomes from one can profoundly impact the other.

When a personal injury case and a criminal case happen simultaneously, it often involves scenarios where the defendant’s actions that caused harm are both a violation of civil law (leading to a personal injury lawsuit) and criminal law (leading to criminal prosecution). Here is how these cases typically coincide in Georgia and the distinctions between them:

  • Differences in Purpose: The State brings the criminal case and aims to punish the wrongdoer and prevent future criminal acts. The burden of proof requires proving the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a high standard of proof. In contrast, the personal injury case is a civil action brought by the victim seeking compensation for damages due to the defendant’s actions. This case requires a lower burden of proof – wrongdoing must be proven “by the preponderance of the evidence.” 
  • Independent Proceedings: These cases proceed independently in different courts. The criminal case occurs in a criminal court, while the personal injury case occurs in a civil court. The outcome of one does not directly affect the other, though the findings from a criminal trial (such as a conviction) can impact the civil case. For example, if the jury convicts the defendant in a criminal court, this can be used as evidence of wrongdoing in the civil case.
  • Different Types of Consequences: In a criminal case, the defendant may face jail time, fines, probation, or other criminal penalties. In a personal injury case, if the defendant is found liable, they will typically be required to pay monetary compensation to the victim for damages like medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses.
  • Statute of Limitations: Both cases have time limits that must be adhered to for filing purposes. The statute of limitations In Georgia for most personal injury cases is generally two years from the date of the injury, but there are exceptions. For criminal cases, the time limit depends on the specific crime. For example, if the crime was murder, there may not be a statute of limitations, while other crimes have specific time frames within which charges must be filed.
  • Impact of Outcomes: While the outcomes of criminal and civil cases are separate, the result of a criminal trial can significantly impact a personal injury case in Georgia. A criminal conviction, for example, could be used as proof in the personal injury case that the defendant acted wrongfully. However, an acquittal in a criminal case does not necessarily mean the civil case will fail since a lower standard of proof is required in civil court.

It is also worth noting that victims may be able to obtain a form of restitution (similar to compensation) as part of the outcome of a criminal case. However, this is typically limited compared to damages available in personal injury lawsuits.

Individuals involved in such cases in Georgia should seek legal advice to understand their rights and obligations fully, as the specific details of each case can significantly affect the outcomes and available legal strategies. Gautreaux Law has decades of experience representing individuals in personal injury actions. We can help you navigate the civil aspect of a personal injury lawsuit that may also intersect with a criminal action.

About the Author
Jarome Gautreaux is a personal injury trial lawyer. He represents people who have been seriously injured, as well as the families of people killed because of carelessness or negligence. For over 20 years, he has successfully recovered more than 100 million dollars in a variety of Macon personal injury cases. Jarome’s reputation for client focus and case success has led to other lawyers requesting his assistance with complex personal injury litigation. What drives Jarome every day is his strong belief that the amount of money someone has should not dictate the justice they receive. It is for this reason that he has never worked for corporations, insurance companies, or other interest groups. Instead, he thrives on helping the people who need it most- people who have suffered at the hands of others and deserve compensation.