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Using criminal convictions in civil actions for car accidents

There is a difference in what is called the "burden of proof" in criminal court versus civil court. The standard in a criminal proceeding is "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is higher than that required in a civil action. This means that criminal convictions obtained in the aftermath of car accidents might provide invaluable evidence for a personal injury or wrongful death claim in a New Jersey civil court.

For instance, back in Feb. 2015, a man's vehicle sustained heavy damage when another vehicle slammed into it in a parking lot. The driver responsible for the collision failed to remain at the scene. Police later located the vehicle and its driver, who turned out to be an off-duty police officer.

That officer pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the accident in June 2016. Now, the victim has filed a personal injury claim against the officer because he continues to have issues related to the injuries he suffered in the crash. The officer's conviction could help establish that he was the responsible party in the accident and that his negligence led to the injuries from which the victim continues to suffer.

New Jersey residents need not rely on a conviction of the at-fault party in order to file or successfully litigate a personal injury claim, however. In fact, in many cases surrounding car accidents, a conviction only plays one part in establishing negligence. Other evidence gathered from the official investigation and any independent inquiry is often introduced, and a conviction related to the accident and the subsequent injuries serves to bolster the allegations of negligence.

Source:, "Linden officer faces lawsuit in off-duty hit-and-run crash", Tom Haydon, Feb. 13, 2017

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