Dangers of Delaying Civil Lawsuit for Car Accident Injuries Until End of Criminal Case

Sometimes in cases of Montgomery car accident injuries, at-fault parties may be facing criminal charges as well as the civil complaint.

For example, a drunk driver causes serious injury or death to others on the road, and is now facing felony charges of DUI manslaughter and DUI property damage.

It’s true that at the conclusion of some criminal cases, the judge may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim, and this is achieved without the victim incurring the expenses that a civil case would necessitate. It’s also true that some courts may order that a civil proceeding be halted until the conclusion of a criminal case. (This was what happened in the recent case of Hardiman v. Cozmanoff, reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court.)

However, this does not mean that a civil personal injury case is not worth pursuing or that you should wait any length of time before consulting with a lawyer or filing the case. In fact, there are a number of reasons why you should at least initiate the civil action prior to the completion of the criminal case.

For starters, while it may seem tempting to wait for the potential restitution order, you probably don’t have to wait that long to at least collect something from the at-fault party’s insurance company (or your own if the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured). Criminal cases, particularly those involving felonies, can take years to wind their way through the criminal justice system. You probably can’t wait that long to pay your medical bills and other expenses.

Another thing to consider is that the vast majority of criminal cases result in plea bargains. These settlements will determine how much prison time a defendant will serve, how much the individual will pay in fines and how much will be paid in restitution. Be mindful of the fact that although you and the prosecutor may have similar goals, they aren’t necessarily the same. A prosecutor may need to bargain with the amount of the restitution in order to obtain some other concession from the defendant. Getting you compensation isn’t the prosecutor’s No. 1 priority.

Then there is the matter of potential third-party liability. A criminal case is going to cover only the activities of the person who is directly charged with a crime. There may be some cases in which injured parties in a car accident can seek damages from third parties, such as establishments that served alcohol to a minor driver or a parent who knowingly allowed his or her unlicensed, uninsured child to drive their vehicle.

Finally, you must consider the statute of limitations. As mentioned earlier, criminal prosecutions can take years. You only have a set amount of time in which you can file a personal injury claim. In Alabama, you have two years from the time of your injury in which to file a case. That limitation can be tolled if the court requires that you wait until the conclusion of the criminal case to proceed with your own matter, but you have to file your complaint first before that right will be extended.

In the Hardiman case, a driver struck and killed a jogger and then reportedly fled the scene. He was arrested several days later and charged with 13 crimes, including reckless homicide. Several weeks later, the jogger’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the defendant for wrongful death. As part of that case, the defendant was served with several discovery requests. This put the defendant in precarious situation in terms of his constitutional rights in the criminal case. If he complied with the discovery requests, those responses could be used against him in the pending criminal trial. However, if he refused, the jury could infer he was liable in the civil case. The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed an earlier ruling granting a stay on the discovery in the civil case, but still requiring him to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200.

Additional Resources:
Hardiman v. Cozmanoff, March 12, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Taylor v. Biba – Technicalities in Car Accident Lawsuits, Feb. 20, 2014, Montgomery Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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