California civil lawsuits generally involve private disputes between people or entities. In contrast, criminal cases involve actions that the law considers harmful to society and violate a state or federal criminal law. In several situations, these offenses can overlap, and a defendant may face both criminal and civil charges. The critical differences in these cases involve the defendant’s penalties and the damages a victim can recover.
Civil cases commence when a plaintiff files a claim against a person who failed to meet a legal duty they owed to the plaintiff or victim. These lawsuits may be filed in state or federal court depending on where the offense occurred and the specific details of the incident. A judge or jury hears and decides the case, and if appropriate, they award damages to the plaintiff. On the other hand, criminal cases involve the government filing a formal indictment against the defendant. A District Attorney or United States Attorney’s Office pursues the claim against the defendant. A judge or jury hears the case and determines what criminal penalties are appropriate. Criminal penalties may include incarceration, probation, and restitution.
Overlaps may occur when the offense involves an act that may result in a civil and criminal charge, such as drunk driving, assaults, and batteries. Injury victims must often pursue civil charges to recover compensation for the injuries and damages they suffered. Criminal restitution typically does not meet the extent of a victim’s losses. As such, civil cases are especially important when the incident resulted in significant damages and losses. Injury victims do not need to await criminal charges or the result of a prosecution to pursue civil claims against the at-fault party especially, because these criminal cases may punish the defendant but not adequately compensate the victim.