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Do You Understand the Difference between Civil and Criminal Law?

Going to court can mean two different things depending on whether you are in a civil or criminal court system. Before you decide to file a lawsuit in your personal injury case, it is wise to understand the differences, because they serve very different purposes.

CIVIL COURT SYSTEM  In civil law, the court is essentially settling a disagreement between two parties.  A civil case must begin with an individual or entity filing a claim against another. This reason for the filing is that the Plaintiff (he who files the case) feels that another person or entity has failed to act out a legal duty, thereby causing harm.  The harm can be physical, mental, financial, or a combination of those things.  These cases are frequently settled outside the courtroom and can result in the defendant being required to fulfill the duty or to pay for damages caused by failure to do so.  The decision will depend on the facts of the case, if the defendant is found guilty, and what the judge or jury feels that the Plaintiff deserves.

CRIMINAL COURT SYSTEM  In a criminal case, the court determines whether or not an individual is guilty of committing a particular crime.  The criminal case is not filed by the victim.  In fact, there may not even be a “victim” in some criminal cases, such as those brought to court for DUI.  It is a government  that stands in on behalf of the American public to argue why the accused party is guilty of the crime.  If found guilty, the defendant’s sentencing may involve monetary fines, jail time, probation, or some combination therein.  Fines are not to be paid to a victim, but rather serves only as a punishment for an illegal act.  A person or entity found guilty in criminal court can still be brought to trial in civil court, as a victim tries to collect damages.

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