In March 2017, Hugo Milochevitch, a Miami-area DJ, crashed his car in downtown Miami. According to reports, he ran flashing red lights at an intersection and collided with a truck that had the right of way. The truck flipped and landed on top of the DJ’s BMW, trapping all of the passengers inside. Four people were injured and one of his passengers was killed in the accident.
Shortly after the crash, Milochevitch’s blood alcohol concentration registered at .067 percent, which is slightly below the legal limit. Drug tests also confirmed that he had cocaine in his system. He as taken into custody on suspicion of DUI.
Two years later, Miami prosecutors have been unable to prove that the DJ was, in fact, unlawfully under the influence at the time of the accident. As a result, he will not face criminal charges for his role in the fatal Miami car accident.
Just because Milochevitch won’t face criminal charges doesn’t mean that he’s off the hook altogether. The victims in the accident still have the right to file civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits to recover compensation.
Criminal and Civil Cases Are Independent
It’s not uncommon for criminal and civil cases to proceed simultaneously after a fatal car accident. Drivers can be charged with a crime for their involvement in the crash and also be named as a defendant in personal injury lawsuits. These criminal and civil proceedings are entirely distinct and independent. The outcome of one case will not necessarily have an impact on the other. There are a few reasons for this.
Burden of Proof
The burden of proof in criminal and civil cases is different. In criminal matters, the state must prove that a defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, a criminal defendant can only be convicted if there’s no uncertainty about his or her guilt. This is an incredibly high standard.
In Florida personal injury matters, plaintiffs must prove that a defendant is liable by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Simply put, plaintiffs have to convince a jury that their arguments are more likely true than not. This is a much lower standard than is used in criminal cases.
Since the burden of proof in civil cases is much lower, it can be easier for plaintiffs to win their case. The state, on the other hand, has to make sure that no reasonable person could question the defendant’ guilt.
Issues Litigated in Criminal and Civil Cases
The issues litigated in criminal and civil cases are different. Criminal cases focus on whether or not a defendant broke the law. Civil cases focus on whether or not a defendant committed a tort. Or, put another way, civil cases focus on whether or not (a) a defendant was negligent and (b) this negligence caused harm.
Since the issues in criminal and civil cases are different, it makes sense that the result of one would not necessarily affect the other.
Criminal Convictions Can Be Used in Civil Cases
The outcome of a criminal case doesn’t automatically affect the outcome of a civil case. However, there are times when the outcome can be relevant. Let’s say that Milochevitch was arrested, tried, and convicted for DUI manslaughter. The victims injured in the accident could use this conviction to help their personal injury cases.
In most personal injury matters, plaintiffs have the burden of proving that a defendant was negligent. This involves establishing a duty, a breach of that duty, and proving an injury. When a defendant has been convicted of a crime that is intended to prevent the type of harm that occurred, that conviction can be used to establish a presumption of negligence.
In other words, plaintiffs can point to the conviction as proof that the defendant was negligent. This is known as negligence per se. The burden then shifts to the defendant, who has to prove otherwise.