The Difference Between a Wrongful Death Civil Case and Criminal Case in New York

Table of Contents

    It can be extremely difficult to lose a loved one, even more so if their death resulted from wrongful or criminal behavior. A wrongful death may be met with both civil and criminal action.

    The reasons behind criminal and civil legal action for wrongful death are largely the same. When someone dies under unlawful or wrongful circumstances (e.g., violence, negligence, accidents), someone may be held responsible. A civil lawsuit for wrongful death is often filed by surviving family members, while the government brings criminal action. In a criminal case, the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and a civil trial requires a preponderance of the evidence. In a civil case, victims’ families may recover damages related to the wrongful death, but there are no damages available in criminal cases, and victims’ families do not recover anything.

    After losing a loved one, you should speak to a lawyer about potential legal actions. Our Buffalo wrongful death attorneys can help you take civil action, but we might have to wait until a related criminal case is completed. For a free case review, call The Carrion Law Firm at (718) 841-0083.

    Reasons Behind Criminal and Civil Wrongful Death Cases in New York

    The underlying wrongdoing that forms the basis for a civil or criminal case for wrongful death are often the same. However, wrongful deaths do not always lead to criminal charges. If the case does involve criminal prosecution, you might have to wait until the criminal trial is complete before you can proceed with a civil lawsuit. Our Brentwood wrongful death lawyers can help you.

    Violence is an unfortunately common cause of many wrongful deaths in New York. Whenever someone’s death is caused by violence, a criminal investigation and charges are likely to follow. Keep in mind that criminal violence does not always mean murder. While murder charges are certainly a possibility, various homicide offenses of differing degrees might apply instead.

    Negligence can also lead to wrongful deaths. Negligence is not always criminal but can be met with criminal charges under certain circumstances. Negligence often involves accidents, and defendants in criminal and civil wrongful death cases usually insist they never meant to hurt anyone. Even so, a person may be held responsible for their negligent behavior if they created a dangerous situation and should have known better. Common wrongful death cases involving negligence include car accidents, medical malpractice, and premises liability.

    Who Files a Wrongful Death Civil or Criminal Case in New York?

    One of the biggest differences between criminal and civil cases for wrongful deaths in New York is who is bringing the case to court. In a civil action, victims’ families file the action to hold the defendant liable. In a criminal case, the government files charges, and victims and their families often have no real control over the case.

    In a criminal case for wrongful death, the local district attorney’s office will decide whether to file charges against the defendant. Each county has its own district attorney’s office in charge of imposing state laws, but some cases might rise to the federal level.

    In a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, the government has no say in who is held liable. Instead, the victims’ families must file the case themselves. If the family chooses to forego civil action, the defendant will not be out on trial.

    Since wrongful deaths are highly emotionally charged, and victims’ families are often integral to the case as witnesses, the government may consult with families before filing criminal charges, making plea deals, or taking other actions. However, families ultimately have no control over legal decisions and charges. The opposite is true in a civil case; families often exercise complete control over the case, evidence, legal strategy, and more.

    How to Prove a Civil or Criminal Wrongful Death Case in New York

    Proving that the defendant is responsible for your loved one’s wrongful death is also different in criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, you and your attorney must prove the defendant’s liability by a preponderance of the evidence.

    In all criminal cases, prosecutors have a very high burden of proof. Proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is incredibly difficult and requires strong evidence and persuasive arguments. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the bar is set extremely high because the stakes for all parties involved are so high.

    In most civil lawsuits, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. Although this is a challenging burden to meet, it is not as high as the burden in criminal cases. A preponderance of the evidence means that our Albany wrongful death lawyers must prove it is more likely than not that the defendant caused your loved one’s wrongful death. Although the stakes are high, no jail time or criminal charges are involved, and the only thing on the line is usually money.

    What Do Victims Get in a Civil or Criminal Wrongful Death Case in New York

    One of the biggest concerns among the families of wrongful death victims is what they get out of a trial. In criminal cases, victims and families may play important roles as witnesses, but there are usually not compensated. On the other hand, civil trials focus on making victims’ families whole again – or close to it – by compensating them for losses the defendant caused.

    In a criminal case, justice is delivered by punishing the defendant, often with a strict prison term. However, the court does not award anything to the victim’s family. Criminal trials focus more on the harm done to society rather than individuals.

    In a civil trial, justice takes the form of financial compensation. Your damages must be evaluated, and if the defendant is found liable, they must pay for your damages. Since the death of a loved one is so incredibly serious, damages are often very high, and liable defendants are on the hook for very large sums of money. According to E.P.T. Law § 5-.4.3(a), damages may include funeral expenses, the cost of the deceased person’s medical care, and damages the deceased person could have claimed had they survived.

    Call Our New York Wrongful Death Lawyers for Help Now

    If you lose a family member because of someone else’s violent or negligent behavior, there may be both criminal and civil consequences. Our New York wrongful death lawyers can help you file a civil lawsuit for compensation while the government handles criminal prosecution. For a free case review, call The Carrion Law Firm at (718) 841-0083.