It’s Tuesday afternoon and you’re driving home from work. Remembering that you need to pick up some groceries on your way home, you decide to take a detour to stop at the grocery store. In doing so, you leave the highway and enter suburban streets. Coming up to an intersection, you slow down and stop at the stop sign. Once you’ve come to a complete stop you begin to pull out only to feel the jarring impact of a car that didn’t stop at the stop sign followed by the crunching of metal and plastic. Thankfully everyone is okay. Once the police show up, they complete an accident report and issue the other driver a ticket for failure to stop at the stop sign. What effect does the traffic ticket have?
If you were to bring a personal injury case to recover for damages relating to your personal property (your vehicle) and any medical expenses that you incurred (among other available damages), the traffic ticket is exceptionally important. First, remember that a claim for personal injury is a civil matter while a traffic ticket is a criminal offense. Second, know that the burden of proof for a civil matter (by a preponderance of the evidence) is much lower than that of a criminal offense (beyond a reasonable doubt). The burden of proof is what you must prove. In a criminal matter, the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is in fact guilty of the alleged offense. Conversely, the burden of proof in a civil matter only requires only that the evidence favors your side.
Third, know that a criminal conviction can be introduced as evidence in the civil matter if the cause of action is the same. This means that if the person who caused the accident was found guilty of failing to stop at the stop sign based on the traffic ticket, and your personal injury case relies on proving that the person failed to stop at the stop sign, you could introduce the criminal conviction for failure to stop as conclusory proof in your civil matter. The result is that you wouldn’t have to prove that the person failed to stop at the stop sign – it would be assumed based on the criminal conviction.
Conversely, if you’ve been involved in an accident and issued a traffic ticket for the accident, it is essential that you fight the ticket to avoid receiving a guilty verdict as it could be introduced against you in a civil matter. A finding of guilt in a traffic ticket can be the difference between winning and losing in the related civil matter.