After you've been involved in an accident, you need to know how your case can move forward. One common question victims have is the difference between a civil and criminal case. Civil cases, by definition, are brought by individuals against the other party to claim for damages and money that's owed to them. A civil lawsuit may also be filed by the government for violations of federal laws, statutes or rights.
A criminal case is different, because it's filed by the government on either the state, local or federal level. This case's purpose is to make someone respond to accusations of violating the law. The government may be seeking for that individual to receive jail time, a fine or even both.
After an accident where you've been injured, you have the right to seek a civil lawsuit. Through this process, you support your case with evidence and testimony. Once both sides have been heard, the court will rule. If the ruling is in your favor, you may receive compensation for your injuries.
At the same time, the police may be seeking a criminal lawsuit against the person responsible for the injury. This is particularly true in cases involving car accidents where a driver was drunk or negligent before striking you. Any time the police want to charge someone with a crime, it typically ends in court. If the police's case wins, the person accused will be found guilty and made to pay penalties, fines or to go to jail or participate in other punishments like community service or house arrest.
Source: Sheriff.org, "What is the difference between a criminal case and a civil case?" accessed Mar. 04, 2015