In personal injury law, there are a lot of very sad and tragic cases. There are a lot of examples of people acting with ill-intent or being thoughtless to the safety of others.
However, in some instances, the negligent party goes above and beyond, breaking a law in the process of harming another. In those cases, the state in which the crime was committed will often decide to file a criminal case against that person.
A criminal case, of course, is meant to try the person and make a judgment as to whether he or she is guilty of a crime against society. If he is found guilty, that person may to go to jail, be forced to perform mandatory community service, or he may pay a large fine.
However, that money collected is not going to go to the victims of the crime. In fact, the victims will receive nothing, even if the perpetrator is found guilty. He or she has only the right to act as a witness to the crime committed, but receives nothing for speaking out in this manner.
For this reason, the courts allow those harmed by the actions committed to file a separate civil trial.
A civil trial is filed by a victim with the intent to collect damages for the injuries or losses suffered. If the defendant is found guilty, then he will pay a pre-determined sum to the victim, but will not face jail time or any other form of punishment.
The judgment made in a criminal case has no bearing on the civil case and vice versa. There will be different judges, different jurors, different testimony given, and there will often be completely different attorneys present.
There are other differences as well, such as the right to appeal. While the state cannot appeal a “not guilty” verdict in a criminal case, the victim can in a civil case.