Like the rest of the United States, there are two legal systems in Nevada. One deals with trying individuals accused of crimes. The other – the civil court system – handles virtually everything else, including personal injury claims.
Though they are separate, the criminal and civil courts often deal with the aftermath of the same events. For example, if you were injured in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver, the person responsible will likely be charged with a crime and might go to trial. Separately, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the driver to recover damages for your injuries, which might include your pain and suffering, lost past and future wages and medical bills.
Two days in jail for a deadly DUI accident?
Sometimes, the same incident can lead to what seems like very different results in each court. For example, as KDKA recently reported, a woman in another state was sentenced to two days in jail after driving drunk and killing a man in a crash. The woman had a prior DUI on her record.
News stories like this can be frustrating at first. How can someone who caused another’s death by choosing to drink and drive get such a light sentence? Especially when she had a prior record.
In this case, part of the reason could be that the defendant pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors likely agreed to reduce the charges against her in exchange for the guilty plea. The standard of proof in criminal court is higher than in personal injury litigation, so prosecutors often trade heavier charges for guilty pleas in this way.
More than financial compensation
Perhaps more importantly, criminal court is not the only place where injury victims and their families can seek justice. A civil lawsuit can not only compensate you for your financial losses caused by your injuries, it can also help you gain a sense of closure and the knowledge that the defendant (through their insurance company) is paying for what they did.