When Is a Car Accident a Crime?

When Is a Car Accident a Crime?

Many people may not know the direction to take when a car accident happens, mainly because most traffic violations are not criminal cases. In most situations, law enforcement officers may respond to the scene to establish if anyone committed a crime leading to the accident.

The police may also want to enforce traffic rules and improve road safety to prevent future accidents. After investigation, they may arrest someone and press car accident criminal charges.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in California, an experienced personal injury lawyer can evaluate your risks and options in the charges involved in a car crash. Depending on the situation, they’ll advise whether yours is a civil or criminal case against the other driver. Here’s what you need to know.

Differences Between a Criminal and Civil Case

A criminal case entails a violation of state criminal law. Concerning car accidents and personal injury, this includes drunk driving, reckless driving, and leaving the accident scene. The state brings the charges involved in a car crash through a country district attorney of a city attorney, a smaller government unit.

When the charges point to a criminal case, the district attorney is responsible for deciding whether to press charges for the car accident. A car accident criminal charge aims to punish the offender, rehabilitate them, and protect society.

A car accident involving injury is a state civil law, and the outcome depends on written rules or the common law. The motive of a civil case is to compensate the accident victim for the damage and losses. It’s the victim’s responsibility to bring the charges and build a claim against the driver at fault.

Situations That Make a Car Accident Criminal

The most common accident scenarios that lead to criminal car accident charges include the following:


Hit-and-run car accident cases are numerous in California. In successful cases, the perpetrators face a jail sentence of 15 years and steep fines. The victims are often left to meet the costs of their medical treatment and determine how to recover the damages. The process can be complex and frustrating without assistance from an experienced car accident lawyer.

Driving Under the Influence

The police arrest approximately one million drivers annually for driving under the influence of intoxicating substances. Penalties for DUI charges include probation, license suspension, jail time, and fines. DUI accidents lead to property damage in the millions and result in severe injuries or death.

Reckless Driving

Driving without regard for traffic rules or the safety of other road users is reckless driving and includes:

  • Carelessly weaving in and out of traffic
  • Exorbitant speeding
  • Not obeying traffic signals

The court may assess the driver’s mental state and driving behaviors to determine whether they’ll face criminal charges. Reckless driving results in car accidents, property damage, or personal injury can be a criminal case.

Fleeing the Police

It’s never a good idea to flee the police, even when you know they’ll press charges for a car accident. Running away from the police may lead to criminal charges, and causing an accident while doing so may result in more severe consequences.

Vehicular Manslaughter

This crime happens when a driver is irresponsible when operating a car and results in the loss of another person’s life. The driver may face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the circumstances, and evidence presented.

If it’s a case of ordinary negligence, it qualifies as a misdemeanor. Gross negligence on the part of the driver attracts felony charges.

The Burden of Proof in Criminal vs. Civil Car Accident Cases

Whether a car accident case is criminal or civil, there’s an amount of proof a plaintiff has to present to win the case.

In a criminal case, the burden of proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s to say that the evidence presented and the theory around the claim must be factual beyond a certain level of suspicion, known as reasonable doubt.

It’s upon the plaintiff in a civil personal injury case to show that the defendant is responsible for their injuries and substantiate their claims. They must show that their other party is more likely than not to have caused the injuries. That is a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower burden of proof than required in a criminal car accident case.

It’s easier to win a civil case than a criminal one, given that the burden of proof in the former isn’t too complex. A criminal trial may find the defendant not guilty, but the outcome may differ from a civil case. If the state decides not to press charges for a car accident, the plaintiff may still have a good chance of winning a civil case against the defendant.

A California Personal Injury Attorney Can Fight for Your Rights

You may not know the next step to take when you sustain injuries in a car accident. An experienced personal injury lawyer can guide you on whether to press criminal or civil charges. They’ll work with you to file a claim to get the compensation you deserve to take care of your medical bills.

At LA Century Law, we understand that car accident injuries can change your life forever, but we want to take the burden off you back. Our commitment to you is more than financial, as we are committed to your recovery and fighting for justice. Contact us today to schedule a consultation for a free case evaluation.

Civil and Criminal Car Accident Case FAQs

Can I bring a civil case if there’s an ongoing criminal case?

An ongoing criminal case doesn’t prevent you from filing a personal injury case. The criminal and civil proceedings can co-exist independently.

How do you know who was at fault in a car accident?

Determining who was at fault is usually a complex process that requires detailed investigation by the police. Ensure you cooperate with the officers as they look into any traffic violations.

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