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Law Offices of John Morelli
A Personal Injury Firm Serving All Of South Jersey

Criminal Ramifications Of Automobile Accidents

When you get into an automobile accident, there can be legal ramifications which can lead to both civil and criminal liability. Liability is one of the most important legal terms, as it refers to ownership of one's actions or failure to act in the face of their legal responsibilities. Criminal liability typically refers to charges made from the state directly against the driver, such as a drunk driver who is issued a DUI and then has to face that charge through the court system. Civil liability can have several different meanings, but it usually refers to a civil action taken between one party against another, such as making a claim for injuries.

"Negligent" and "Non-Negligent" Drivers

If you are operating an automobile, your legal responsibility is to obey all traffic laws, maintain a safe stopping distance from the car in front of you, and not be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol which would inhibit your ability to drive. It sounds simple enough, if there's a red light, you have a legal responsibility to stop at it. Fail to fulfill your obligations, and you will be found a "negligent" driver. As long as a person operated their automobile reasonably, following all relevant traffic laws, the law considers them to be acting in a "non-negligent" manner.

Don't EVER Leave the Scene of an Accident

After any car accident that occurs, both drivers are subsequently required by New Jersey state law to stop and exchange auto-insurance information. If you hit someone's car, you must stop and give your information to the other driver and the police, should they arrive. The primary reason this is required is so that the insurance companies can determine fault. If either driver should fail to stop and exchange information, they can then be found guilty of a "hit and run".

What You Can Expect of the Police

It is possible that a police officer who arrived at the scene could issue a ticket and charge a grossly negligent driver with a criminal offense, such as assault with a deadly weapon. But, from my experience as an attorney helping people through countless car accidents, that is rarely done for even the most egregious cases. For a police officer who's mainly inclined to get traffic moving again and get back to their shift, they do not usually stop long enough to assess the scene to then make a charge against one of the drivers. If you were hit by a driver who ran a red light or blew a stop sign, don't be surprised if they failed to receive a ticket for their actions. This is why nearly all cases are handled mainly on a civil level, where the negligent driver is sued by the injured the person or their insurance company.

The Differences Between Civil and Criminal Law

New Jersey's system for injury compensation is built around tort law, which attempts to rectify a "civil wrong" that caused losses or suffering to another individual. Although a criminal act can fall within tort law, personal injury torts usually are focused on the harm done due to the negligence of a person, corporation or any other entity through civil law. It is possible for someone to be pursued with "criminal negligence" in a criminal trial and general "negligence" through a tort lawsuit, but these are done through separate courts. A good example would be the famous OJ Simpson trial, in which he was acquitted for a criminal act but found guilty civilly as being responsible for his wife's "wrongful death" in a tort lawsuit. Tort lawsuits are handled outside the criminal system, and thus do not have the same ramifications that a criminal suit would.

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