Criminal law involves the creation and enforcement of statutes intended to protect people and Society from the inappropriate, abusive or violent actions of others. Civil law creates structure and responsibilities between members of society to one another. Civil law, for example, creates a framework under which those harmed by the negligence or wrongful acts of others can hold the responsible party accountable through the civil courts. 

Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are examples of ways that civil law can potentially protect those who suffer property damage, personal injury or a tragic loss because of someone else. These lawsuits can often exist at the awkward intersection between the criminal law and civil law systems.

A civil lawsuit is not a form of double jeopardy

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that you have civil rights to bring legal action against someone who harms you or a member of your family, regardless of what actions the state takes against that individual. 

Most people know that it is a violation of your civil rights to face trial twice for the same offense, an experience known as double jeopardy, but that rule only applies to criminal proceedings, not to civil lawsuits. Regardless of what charges the state has brought against someone, you have rights if they have caused a provable, negative impact on your life through their negligence or wrongful acts.

Just because the state can’t convict doesn’t mean you can’t sue

The standard for conviction in a criminal trial is that the evidence convinces jurors beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt. That is a relatively high burden of evidence for prosecutors. The standard for evidence in a civil case is simply that the preponderance of evidence supports someone’s claims. 

In other words, just because the state didn’t have adequate evidence to bring criminal charges or secure a conviction against someone doesn’t mean that you can’t win against them in civil court.