The South Carolina Highway Patrol charged a drunk driver after a recent crash that killed another motorist. An SUV was hit from behind and forced off the road, where it struck a tree. The victim was trapped inside his vehicle and died at the scene.
The surviving driver was charged with a felony DUI resulting in death.
At this point the state will pursue a criminal case based on that charge. In a criminal case, the family of the victim is not represented by the state, and if the drunk driver is found guilty, no damages (compensation) are given to the victim’s family.
That family, however, has every right to pursue damages in what is called a civil case, and they do not even need to wait until the criminal case has begun.
HOW DOES A CRIMINAL CASE DIFFER FROM A CIVIL CASE?
Criminal offenses are offenses against society as a whole. That means that even if one person murders another, the crime is considered an offense to everyone in society. Such cases are prosecuted on behalf of the state—not the victim. A civil case, on the other hand, happens only if the victim (or the victim’s family) files a case against the accused party with a private attorney.
It is important to know that no matter the outcome of a criminal case, a civil case can move forward. The civil case does not turn on whether a drunk driver was found guilty. If a drunk driver pleads to lesser charges or even if the driver is found not guilty, a civil case can still be filed and won against the negligent driver. This is because in a criminal case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a high standard the prosecutor must meet to prove guilt.
In a civil case, however, the attorney representing a victim must only prove that the driver was negligent in causing the accident by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means it was more likely than not that the driver caused the accident. This is a much lower standard, which is why some criminal defendants that are found “not guilty” are later held liable for the same actions in a civil case.
WHO RECEIVES DAMAGES IN A CRIMINAL CASE VS A CIVIL CASE?
As mentioned, criminal cases do not result in monetary damages to a victim or a victim’s family. A guilty defendant generally receives a fine payable to the state and/or a jail sentence. Fines collected in a criminal case will be applied to state costs, such as law enforcement salaries, school equipment or public utility upgrades.
A civil case, on the other hand, will definitely result in monetary damages if the defendant is found guilty, and there are several different types of damages:
- Compensatory damages, awarded to compensate the victim for costs like medical expenses, lost wages and vehicle repairs.
- Non-economic damages, represents payment for intangibles that cannot be strictly monetized, such as disfigurement, pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages, intended strictly as punishment; a financial deterrent towards repeated negative behavior.
HIT BY A DRUNK DRIVER IN SOUTH CAROLINA?
At Stewart Law Offices, LLC, we handle civil cases for victims of all kinds of accidents. We understand that after a car crash or other serious accident, your injuries may make seeking legal assistance difficult or even impossible, so our attorneys will visit the hospital or your home any time to provide a free consultation about your legal options.
Our injury attorneys work to get victims the compensation they need, and you will not pay a fee until we reach a settlement in your favor. Call our office or fill out the contact form on our site for free advice about civil drunk driving cases.
Note: This information is for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. You can only receive legal advice by meeting with an attorney