May 29, 2024

Civil vs. Criminal Cases: Understanding the Key Differences

Civil vs. Criminal Cases: Understanding the Key Differences - courtroom

Civil cases primarily deal with disputes between individuals, organizations, or entities over legal duties and responsibilities. The goal is to resolve these disputes and provide compensation to the aggrieved party.

They often involve issues such as contracts, property disputes, family law matters (like divorce and child custody), and personal injury claims.

Criminal cases involve actions considered harmful or dangerous to society as a whole. The state prosecutes these cases to maintain public order and safety.

They address offenses like theft, assault, murder, and drug offenses. The primary aim is to punish the offender and deter future crimes.

Morgan & Morgan, the nation’s largest personal injury law firm, primarily handles civil cases, like personal injuries suffered due to the negligence of others. Some of these cases, like corporate scandals, also involve a criminal element.

Becoming a victim of a crime can impact your life severely—mentally, physically, and financially. Some victims of crime receive restitution in criminal lawsuits. However, not all qualify; and restitution is not available when a defendant is acquitted.

Victims could be entitled to compensation in a civil case, however, even when a defendant is not convicted in criminal proceedings. Other advantages of civil cases can include:

  • The burden of proof is lower
  • Family members can recover damages with a wrongful death claim
  • Victims could hold multiple defendants accountable in a civil case

Morgan & Morgan is here for victims and their families. We can assess your case, identify your options, and fight hard for what you deserve. Hiring one of our lawyers is easy, and you can get started with a free case evaluation in minutes.


What Are Other Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases?

One of the major distinctions between criminal and civil cases is the parties involved. For civil cases, the party initiating the lawsuit is the plaintiff, while the party being sued is the defendant. The dispute is generally between private individuals or organizations.

For criminal cases, the state, represented by a prosecutor or district attorney, brings charges against the accused individual, known as the defendant. The crime is considered an offense against society, even if it involves specific victims.

They also differ in terms of the burden of proof. For civil cases, the plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable. This is a lower standard of proof compared to criminal cases.

For criminal cases, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt to such a degree that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. This is the highest standard of proof in the legal system.

Civil and criminal cases are also different in terms of legal representation. For civil cases, parties typically hire private attorneys to represent them, although some may choose to represent themselves. Parties are responsible for their own legal fees unless otherwise awarded by the court.

For criminal cases, defendants who cannot afford an attorney are entitled to representation by a public defender. The state employs prosecutors who represent the government and society’s interest in enforcing laws.

The outcomes and penalties of a case also differ between the two types of cases. For civil cases, the most common outcome is an order for the defendant to pay compensation to the plaintiff for losses suffered. Courts may issue orders requiring the defendant to take specific actions or refrain from certain activities.

For criminal cases, penalties can include incarceration, probation, community service, and fines. A conviction results in a criminal record, which can have long-term consequences on the defendant’s life.

Finally, the procedures of both are different. Civil cases begin when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court and serves the defendant with legal papers. Both sides gather evidence through discovery processes like depositions and interrogatories, followed by a trial if the case is not settled.

Criminal Cases begin with an arrest or citation, followed by formal charges being filed by the prosecutor. The defendant is arraigned, pleads to the charges, and if not resolved through plea bargaining, the case proceeds to trial.


What are Examples of Civil Claims Filed by Crime Victims?

For most crimes, there is a corresponding civil action that allows victims to recover compensation. While there can be various examples of such civil lawsuits, cases we frequently see in our practice include:



Negligence occurs when a person suffers injuries or other damages due to another’s carelessness. Examples can include traffic accidents due to reckless driving, speeding, or alcohol misuse. However, criminal negligence can also occur in a multitude of other situations, such as:

  • Nursing home abuse and neglect
  • Dog bites and animal attacks
  • Boating and aviation accidents
  • Dangerous and defective products


Wrongful Death

Wrongful death lawsuits allow the families of victims to recover damages from the death of their loved ones. Criminal cases that could lead to a wrongful death civil claim can include attacks and assaults resulting in death, murder, vehicular homicides, and others.


Assault and Battery

Examples of assault and battery leading to civil lawsuits can include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Malicious wounding
  • Domestic violence
  • Assaults at work
  • Attempted murder

If you are the victim of a crime, having the support of a dedicated attorney can be crucial for navigating the legal process and preserving your chances of recovery. Therefore, your next best step after a criminal case is filed should be to consult an experienced attorney and determine your legal options.


Morgan & Morgan Can Help

Civil cases revolve around private disputes and aim to provide compensation, while criminal cases deal with offenses against society and seek to impose penalties like imprisonment. Each type of case has distinct procedures, standards of proof, and outcomes, highlighting the importance of specialized legal representation in each context.

While justice can be sought in either type of case, only in a civil case will you have the chance to recover the compensation you need and deserve to move forward with your life.

Our motivated attorneys want you to have the best chance of winning compensation with a civil case. Morgan & Morgan can be here for you during the most challenging time in your life. We have helped countless crime victims recover the compensation they needed to rebuild their lives. We want to help you too.

You don’t pay a dime upfront when we take your case. That’s right—Fee Is Free™, and you only pay if we win your case. You never owe anything out-of-pocket or up front. Contact us now for a free and confidential case evaluation to find out how you could get justice and compensation.