Most personal injury accidents are not accidents at all. They are preventable incidents that stem from someone’s carelessness. In these situations, the at-fault party may bear both criminal and civil liability in Tennessee.

A criminal case and a civil case are two separate legal processes, under two separate justice systems. Understanding the difference is important for accident survivors, as one could result in financial compensation for injuries.

Criminal liability for the incident

A person may bear criminal liability for personal injuries if he or she broke a state or federal law during the accident. An example would be a drunk driver who kills a pedestrian in Knoxville. Breaking the state’s DUI laws and causing a fatal accident could lead to prosecutors pressing criminal charges against the drunk driver.

The point of the criminal justice system is to punish the defendant for intentional wrongful conduct. A judge may convict a defendant of a crime and issue a penalty in the form of a sentence, such as jail time or fines.

Civil liability for damages

The goal of the civil system, on the other hand, is to compensate the victim of the crime. It is up to the state’s Attorney General to press criminal charges against someone after a serious accident in Tennessee. It is the victim’s responsibility, however, to pursue civil damages. The victim (or his or her attorney) needs to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party to claim financial recovery.

A civil lawsuit aims to reimburse the claimant for medical bills and other losses related to the defendant’s wrongful act or neglect. If someone is civilly liable, it means that person is legally responsible for paying the economic and noneconomic costs of the incident.

A defendant could be both criminally and civilly liable, but this is not always so. A not-guilty verdict in a criminal case could still mean the defendant negligently caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Most civil statutes of limitations, or deadlines for filing a suit, extend until the completion of a related criminal case.