When seeking justice for a loved one whose life was lost in a car crash, Washington residents often lose hope at one point or another in the legal process. This is especially true in criminal cases, during which the burden of proof lays heavily on the state prosecutor. Guilty verdicts in vehicular homicide cases, such as those in which a court finds that a death occurred while a driver was under the influence of alcohol, could carry severe, lifelong consequences for the defendants.
Wrongful death, on the other hand, is a civil concern. State prosecutors do not perform an active role, although evidence they gathered from criminal investigations could potentially be admissible in the civil case. However, damages from wrongful death settlements could be rather large, depending on the circumstances.
FindLaw's information page on wrongful death cites one of the most heavily publicized cases in recent memory: People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson. Otherwise known as the O.J. Simpson murder case, this high-profile criminal proceeding ended with the accused not guilty on two homicide violations. The corresponding civil suit ended with the defendant liable for the deaths.
The reason for this is, as mentioned above, that the standard of proof is different for the two types of cases. FindLaw's legal dictionary provides a clear definition of what this means, along with an example of some different levels of proof that different cases could require.
A difference in the burden of proof is far from the only reason for differing verdicts in criminal and civil cases derived from the same cause. For example, civil courts might admit evidence criminal courts do not. Plaintiff's legal teams could also be a factor in retrieving civil damages, even if a criminal case ended in a verdict of not guilty.