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Can Criminal Charges Affect Car Crash Lawsuits?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Many car crashes lead to criminal charges, which in many cases can speed up the pace of otherwise costly litigation.

But how do criminal charges impact a civil car crash case?

Criminal Charges for Car Crashes

Sometimes, a car crash can be the result of a much bigger criminal issue. Take Omeed Aziz Popal, 36, who pleaded guilty in July 2013 to a hit-and-run spree he committed in 2006 in two cities: San Francisco and Fremont, California.

Popal killed one and injured 16 others in his various crashes. He was charged and convicted of first-degree murder, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

A conviction in a criminal court carries the highest standard of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, and a conviction -- either by a guilty plea or jury verdict -- is taken as proof of the conduct alleged in the criminal charges.

So if someone is charged and convicted of a criminal offense that relates to fault in a car accident -- either by recklessness, negligence, or bad intent -- then there is sufficient proof that the convicted driver was responsible for the injuries.

Using Criminal Charges in Civil Court

In cases like Popal's, the victims and their families will typically file suits for negligence in causing their injuries, or wrongful death when someone has died due to a crash.

Sometimes there has already been a criminal conviction based on the same conduct related to the crash, and a civil court will accept a certified conviction as sufficient proof that the defendant is responsible for the damages. The standard of proof in a civil case for car crash injuries/wrongful death is lower than in a criminal case, so a conviction in criminal court is more than enough evidence.

Convictions for DUI can also prove useful in civil court, as violating laws which are meant to protect driver safety can be considered negligence per se.

Even if there is no conviction, criminal charges can often give victims a preview of how the defendant will present her defense, and the prosecution may be helpful in rounding up witnesses who can then be called again for a civil case.

If you or a loved one is dealing with damages from a car crash and want to know more about how criminal charges come into play, contact a car accident attorney near you.

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