A Wrongful Act May Be Both a Crime and a Tort

Mar 23

A crime occurs when a person violates the law for which he or she faces criminal consequences. An example would be someone driving under the influence of alcohol above the legal limit (DUI) regardless of whether they cause a car accident. A tort, on the other hand, is a “wrong” or “wrongful conduct” for which those wronged seek legal remedy in civil court. An example would be committing a homicide which gives ground for a wrongful death lawsuit. 

If you believe you might have an injury case when someone committed a wrongful act, speak with an injury attorney right away. 

Similarities and Differences Between Criminal and Civil Wrongs

In both criminal and civil cases, the person held to account for their criminal conduct in a criminal case or wrongdoing in a civil case is known as the “defendant,” and the person seeking to hold them accountable is either a prosecutor in a criminal case or a “plaintiff” in a civil case. 

In both cases, the defendant has done something bad for which the law provides that they pay a price in the form of criminal penalties or paying money to a plaintiff in a civil case.

However, there are situations where an act or omission can be both a criminal offense and grounds for a civil tort. For example, in the DUI example above, the driver could be charged for DUI and face criminal consequences, but they can also face a civil lawsuit from the family of the deceased for wrongful death.

An important difference between a criminal case and a tort is how they are proven in court.

Burden of Proof in Civil vs. Criminal Actions

Both criminal law and civil law have placed the burden of proof on the prosecutor in a criminal case or the plaintiff in a civil tort case. In a criminal case, the prosecutor is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the crime. In a civil case, the burden is less: the plaintiff need only prove their case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which generally means that the defendant is more likely liable than not. 

Further,  the defendant’s state of mind is critical in the criminal case, but not as critical in the civil tort case. This is because to be convicted in most crimes, the prosecutor must show evidence the defendant committed the crime intentionally or recklessly. 

On the other hand, a person can be held liable in a civil tort with a less culpable mind. For example, if you negligently back up your vehicle and hit another car, that is not a crime, but the person you hit can bring a civil tort case against you in civil court.

Let an Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer Help You

If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one, and you wish to pursue a personal injury or wrongful death action, then please contact the office of Blackburn Romey today for a confidential consultation. We are ready to help.

Tom Blackburn

Blackburn Romey founding partner Tom Blackburn graduated with honors receiving a degree from Indiana University at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Initiating his legal career in 1977, he has been active in practicing law and currently serves as a member of the Indiana State Bar Association on the Ethics and Advertising Committees, the American Bar Association, the American Association for Justice, as a board member at the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, and as an appointed member of the Executive Committee for the State of Indiana for the National Trial Lawyers Association.

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