If someone you love has been killed in an act of negligence such as a car crash caused by a drunk driver or other serious crime, you can sue the at-fault party immediately without needing to first wait for a guilty verdict from the judge in any criminal proceedings.

Wrongful death claims and vehicle homicide charges can be tried concurrently because the first is held in civil court and the second is held in criminal court. There are limits on the ability to make someone testify before their criminal case has been concluded, but that does not keep a case from going forward.

Furthermore, because they take place in separate courts, a guilty verdict in a criminal trial is not only NOT needed to pursue a civil trial, it is also not necessary in order to WIN a civil trial! Someone can be found not guilty of homicide in criminal court (meaning the proof was not beyond a reasonable doubt) but still be found at fault for your loved one’s death in a wrongful death lawsuit, where the burden of proof is “more likely than not.”

That said, there are reasons why you might want to wait for a criminal trial to conclude before pursing civil charges.

Related Reading: Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama and Georgia?

Why You Should Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim if There is Already a Homicide Charge

If someone is found guilty of homicide in criminal court, they can be sent to prison, but the surviving family members of the victim typically will get nothing more from the outcome than a sense of justice achieved.

If someone is found liable for a wrongful death in a civil case brought for money damages, they can’t be sent to prison on that verdict alone. However, they can be forced to pay the family of the deceased money for the loss of their loved one (which includes money to compensate for both the loss of the deceased’s love and companionship, and to cover the loss of their income to the household).

That is because civil court is designed to help victims, while criminal court is designed to punish.

What’s the Difference Between Civil Wrongful Death Trials and Criminal Homicide Trials?

The reason why it is possible to find someone at fault in a civil trial after they were found not guilty in a criminal trial is because there are different burdens of proof for each.

In a criminal case, you need to prove the other party is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil trial, you only need to prove the other party is “more likely than not” at fault.

However, even if you don’t need as much evidence, you still need evidence proving the other party’s negligence caused your loved one’s death.

Why You Might Wait Before Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

You should consult a lawyer long before the 2-year anniversary of an injury in Georgia or Alabama, but there may be reasons to wait before filing.

  1. You MAY have extra time: Typically a wrongful death claim has to be brought within two years of the death. Georgia law does allow the clock to be paused when injury was the result of a crime. However, a wrongful death case may have different rules, according to a recent decision of the Georgia Appellate Courts. So you should consult a lawyer before relying on that.
  2. Waiting could help your case: If you wait until the criminal trial has concluded, all of the evidence supplied in the criminal case (which requires more evidence and more conclusive evidence than a civil case) can then also be used in your civil case.
  3. Not waiting could harm the criminal case (and yours): The reverse is also true, and the lawyers in the criminal case can use the evidence found for the civil trial in their own. Typically, the defendant in a civil trial can be “deposed,” meaning they have to truthfully answer your lawyer’s questions about the accident that caused your loved one’s death on the record. However, the Fifth Amendment protects potentially at-fault parties from having to answer questions that may incriminate them. That means they do not have to answer any question that could be used as evidence against them in the criminal trial, if it hasn’t concluded yet. By not waiting until the criminal trial is concluded, you may be losing out on testimony you might otherwise have been able to use.

Still Have Questions? Call Gary Bruce.

After the death or injury of someone you love because of another person’s or party’s negligence, you are likely angry, upset, and confused about where to go from here. You don’t want to miss your chance to get the justice, closure, and help your family needs.

Contacting the Law Offices of Gary Bruce offers you a safe and compassionate space to get the answers you need for no cost and with no obligation to hire. The sooner you call, the better, to ensure that you are eligible to pause the statute of limitations and for us to start building your case as early as possible.

Get in touch today to learn how we can help.