Is my Bicycle Accident a Civil or Criminal Matter?

cop at accident scene

There is often a lot of confusion when it comes to civil and criminal laws in bicycle accident cases. For instance, if you’re hit on a bicycle by a drunk driver, what are your legal options and what are the legal ramifications for the at-fault driver?

Civil vs. Criminal Law Cases

First, let’s distinguish between civil and criminal cases.

A civil claim involves a legal, non-criminal dispute between two parties. In the area of personal injury involving a bicycle accident, this would involve an injured bicycle rider (the plaintiff) bringing a lawsuit against the person caused their injuries (the defendant). If the injured party wins their case, they are entitled to a monetary award amount from the defendant to pay for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Property damage for their bicycle
  • Long-term disabilities
  • Other related damages

These types of legal proceedings do not involve putting someone in jail, putting someone on probation, suspending one’s license, or forcing one to pay a criminal fine. These types of punishments are used instead in criminal law cases.

If a rider is injured either intentionally or by reckless conduct, such acts would violate California laws and be considered criminal acts. In cases of bicycle accidents, such acts that would be considered criminal acts include:

  • Driving while impaired and causing harm to a cyclist
  • Intentionally colliding with a bicycle rider
  • Deliberating and recklessly ignoring safety and traffic laws

Civil Claims for Injured Bicyclists

The good news is that civil cases are typically easier to prove than criminal cases because the burden of proof is defined differently for both:

  • Criminal Cases: The burden of proof is held to a very high standard and it must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is found guilty.
  • Civil Cases: It must be proven “by a preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant’s action caused harm; in other words, the plaintiff only needs to offer slightly more evidence than the defense to be successful. Because of this lower standard of proof, one can win a successful civil suit, even if the criminal court did not find them guilty.

At Fowler Helsel Vogt, our goal is to ensure that every injured cyclist that comes to us for legal representation feels fairly and fully compensated when their case is finally over. Our dedicated, seasoned bicycle accident attorneys are here to ensure that liable parties are held responsible for your accident so you can focus on healing the right way.

Contact our firm at (559) 900-1280 to get started on your case today.

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