Is a Car Accident a Civil or Criminal Case?

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Car accidents are one of the most common cases that we have in modern society. With so many drivers out there, it’s no surprise that we have so many that cross the desks of attorneys every single day. One of the first things a lawyer has to do when investigating the details of car accident case is determined the nature of it: is a car accident a civil or criminal case?

In most cases, a car accident will remain a civil case. Often times these are ones that will stay up to the jurisdiction of the insurance companies and individuals involved to sort out. While it can never hurt to get an attorney’s opinion, these are typically more low level and low risk cases where an attorney may not be required. However, there are situations where a civil case can escalate to criminal very quickly.

Hit and runs are one of the most common escalations. Whether the driver hit a pedestrian, vehicle, or private property, they are required to stop at the scene and follow appropriate accident protocol. This includes, but is not limited to, exchanging information with the other driver or person involved as well as call the local authorities if need be.

DUI/DWI/DWAI’s are also all extremely common criminal car accident cases. While the penalties may vary depending on what offense the motorist is on as well as whether or not they have been previously convicted, it is always a criminal case. Some even include financial penalties, driving penalties, or jail time.

Reckless driving or driving in a way that may put another person in danger, has varying specificities from state to state. However, the general law stays the same. The driver may face a number of charges depending on the nature of their recklessness (i.e. should the driver kill someone, they may face criminal charges). The key to determining reckless driving is whether or not there were aggravating circumstances. If there isn’t and there was still an accident, it’s unlikely that the driver will be charged as “reckless.” Sometimes this determination will be made by the initial investigators: the insurance companies.

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