What Is the Difference Between the Civil and Criminal Cases Brought Regarding Someone’s Death?

Crying mother with child seeking advise for wrongful death case.

Crying mother with child seeking advise for wrongful death case.When someone you love dies as the result of another party’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing, you and other surviving members of the family could be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit to get answers and recover the compensation necessary to help with the process of grieving and moving on. While they are separate legal actions, some civil wrongful death lawsuits accompany a criminal case. It’s essential to understand the distinctions between the two.

In a criminal case, government prosecutors seek to hold individuals responsible for actions that violate the law. In a civil suit, a private individual, group, or organization seeks financial compensation for the injuries they suffered, losses they incurred, or violations of their rights.

At Butler Kahn, our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers are committed to helping families seek justice and gain the closure they deserve after someone’s untimely death due to someone else’s negligence. Contact our firm when you are ready to discuss your situation in detail during a free and confidential consultation.

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What Is the Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases?

Several critical distinctions between a civil case and a criminal case regarding someone’s death include:

  • Different bodies of law – In a criminal homicide case, prosecutors must demonstrate that a defendant violated a specific law and killed someone due to a criminal act. However, plaintiffs only need to show that the defendant’s negligence or unlawful actions contributed to the victim’s death in a civil wrongful death case.
  • Who files the case – Criminal homicide cases are filed on behalf of the government, with prosecuting attorneys handling the legal process of pursuing criminal charges in court. Civil wrongful death cases are private matters, typically filed by members of the family of the deceased.
  • Different burdens of proof – In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove to a criminal court jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That means even a slight possibility that the defendant did not commit the crime could result in a “not guilty” verdict. On the other hand, in a civil suit, plaintiffs only need to prove that the defendant is liable based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” That simply means the defendant is more likely than not responsible for the death.
  • Penalties for liability – If a defendant is found guilty in a criminal case, they face penalties such as fines, probation, and jail time. If a defendant is held liable in a civil case, on the other hand, they will typically be ordered to pay a monetary settlement to the plaintiff.

Some situations can serve as grounds for both criminal and civil cases. For example, an intoxicated driver who crashes and kills another road user may face criminal DUI and manslaughter charges in addition to liability in a civil wrongful death case.

Can You Win a Civil Wrongful Death Claim If There’s No Conviction?

Yes. The outcome of a criminal homicide case does not directly affect the outcome of a civil wrongful death case. It is possible to win compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit even if a related criminal case results in a dismissal, a mistrial, or a verdict of “not guilty.” A civil wrongful death may succeed even if the state never criminally charges the at-fault party.

A criminal case requires a much higher standard of burden of proof than a wrongful death case. Therefore, even if the available evidence was not enough to convict a defendant of criminal wrongdoing, it may be enough to hold them liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Does a Criminal Conviction Automatically Mean Civil Liability?

Woman judge talking to lawyer.No. A criminal conviction alone is not enough to establish liability in a civil wrongful death case. Even if the available evidence was enough to convict the defendant of criminal wrongdoing beyond a reasonable doubt, you are still required to prove the defendant’s liability separately to win a civil case.

Several significant differences between the two preclude a direct translation from criminal conviction to civil liability. The parties involved in a civil dispute are significantly different, as are the standards of proof, procedures for submitting evidence, and consequences for the defendant.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case in Georgia?

When a person dies as the result of another party’s wrongful act, they no longer have the ability to file a legal claim themselves. Someone else must file a wrongful death claim on their behalf to recover fair compensation and hold the at-fault party accountable for their negligence.

Under Georgia law, only specific individuals have the right to file a civil wrongful death claim. If a spouse survives the deceased, only the surviving spouse can bring the wrongful death claim. If the person dies without a living spouse, the surviving children become eligible.

If a person dies without leaving behind a surviving spouse or children, surviving parents can file a wrongful death claim. Finally, if the person died with no surviving spouse, children, or parents, the court can appoint an administrator to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased’s estate. No other family members, including siblings, grandparents, or cousins, are eligible.

How Can a Lawyer Help You File a Case?

Losing a loved one is a painful experience. In the aftermath of your loss, it can be difficult just to make it through each day, let alone manage the intricacies of a legal claim. A trusted lawyer can make the process of filing your wrongful death case as painless as possible by:

  • Explaining your legal options and assessing the full extent of your losses.
  • Conducting an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death to uncover critical supporting evidence.
  • Working with expert witnesses such as physicians and accident reconstruction specialists who can provide professional insight into the causes of death.
  • Communicating with third parties such as insurance companies and other attorneys on your behalf.
  • Managing the administrative aspects of your case, such as completing paperwork, filing legal petitions, and keeping an eye on legal deadlines.
  • Representing you in court to stand up for your rights and argue forcefully for a favorable outcome.

Contact a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyer Today

When you contact us, the Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at the Butler Kahn will be ready to support you and your family during this time of grief and mourning. We know you are dealing with an incomprehensible loss, and you deserve to have supportive and knowledgeable legal counsel by your side as you work to move forward.

Picture of Jeb Butler
Jeb Butler’s career as a Georgia trial lawyer has led to a $150 million verdict in a product liability case against Chrysler for a dangerous vehicle design that caused the death of a child, a $45 million settlement for a young man who permanently lost the ability to walk and talk, and numerous other verdicts and settlements, many of which are confidential at the defendant’s insistence. Jeb has worked on several cases that led to systemic changes and improvements in public safety. He has been repeatedly recognized as a Georgia SuperLawyer and ranks among Georgia’s legal elite. Jeb graduated in the top 10% of his class at UGA Law, argued on the National Moot Court team, and published in the Law Review. He is the founding partner of Butler Kahn law firm. Connect with me on LinkedIn
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