Understanding Canadian Criminal Law

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How your criminal conviction can impact your civil lawsuit

Civil-Lawsuit_optIt is often understood that a criminal conviction may significantly impact a person’s future employment and travel opportunities. However, most people facing criminal charges are unaware how a conviction may impact their ability to bring or defend a civil lawsuit arising from the same incident that gave rise to the criminal charges.

Daniel Brown works closely with a select group of experienced personal injury lawyers to ensure that his clients interests are protected in both criminal and civil court.

In the following article, Toronto personal injury lawyer, Steven Polak, provides insight into how a criminal or Highway Traffic Act conviction for a driving related offence can affect a person’s rights in civil court:

When someone is charged with a criminal offence arising from a car accident, they usually don’t think about the effect that the criminal case might have on a future injury claim. They often assume that a Highway Traffic Act or criminal conviction is separate from the injury lawsuit. In most cases, they are wrong. In fact, the outcome of a criminal court case can potentially impact a future civil law claim.

It is a common misconception to think that what really matters in a personal injury lawsuit is whether your insurance company designates you as having been “at fault” for the car accident. However, your insurance company will go by something called “The Fault Determination Rules” when deciding whether you were at fault for the accident. Those are relatively simple rules that were designed to help insurance companies quickly and cheaply determine who should be listed as the at-fault driver. The fault determination rules are usually not relevant to a lawsuit for injuries.

In most cases, a Highway Traffic Act or criminal conviction can come back to haunt you in your civil lawsuit because it may help determine who was at fault in your accident. If you were injured in an accident that also gave rise to criminal charges, a plea or conviction can affect your right to sue and, in some limited cases, it can even affect your right to claim certain accident benefits in civil court. For instance, if you were a left turning driver who was convicted of dangerous driving or left turn not in safety, you would probably have a lot of trouble in civil court establishing you were not driving dangerously or that you did make the turn in safety.

In most instances, a guilty plea or conviction can be treated as evidence of guilt in an injury lawsuit proceeding. A plea or conviction is also generally treated as conclusive proof both that the guilty party committed the offence and for any findings of fact on which the finding of guilt was based. For example, you can’t later say in civil court “I wasn’t drunk” when you already plead guilty or were found guilty of impaired driving in criminal court. The civil courts use this general rule because they do not want to relitigate issues that have already been decided in another court proceeding. Courts prefer to decide issues once, although there are limited exceptions where it may be appropriate to relitigate an issue at a subsequent trial.

What this means is that you should treat the possibility of a conviction or plea bargain on criminal charges seriously when you have been injured and plan to seek compensation through the civil courts or when you have injured someone else and they are seeking compensation. The conviction or plea in criminal court could determine whether you are at fault for the accident and how the insurance companies view the case for the prupose of paying damages.

As a personal injury lawyer, I have represented clients who were involved in car accidents and plead guilty to criminal or Highway Traffic Act charges, not because they were guilty, but because they didn’t understand the effect the conviction would have on their civil case later on. They figured that it was just easier or cheaper to plead guilty and get the case over with. If these clients could have gone back in time and received proper legal advice on the impact of their decision, most would not have agreed to the plea. This is because the client’s decision to plead guilty will likely affect their ability to sue for their injuries caused by the car accident and hurt their ability to get full compensation from their accident benefits carrier.

Transcripts (written documents that record what is said during a court hearing) from a criminal or Highway Traffic Act trial can be introduced in a civil injury trial. What has been previously said at a criminal trial may be looked at very carefully during the civil injury lawsuit process. This applies both to persons who are charged and to persons who are called to trial as witnesses against the driver who was charged.

For all of these reasons, if you have been injured in an accident, it’s important to obtain early and effective advice from an experienced accident and injury lawyer before resolving your related criminal or Highway Traffic Act case.

I provide free, no obligation, consultations and do not pay unless you win fee structures. Please feel free to call me at 416-710-3268 in Toronto, or 905-409-2438 in Durham (Oshawa/Whitby/Ajax). You can also reach me through my website at www.personalinjurylawlawyer.ca.

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