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September 25, 2019

Filing a Civil Lawsuit vs Criminal Charges: What's the Difference?

Civil vs Criminal Lawsuit Differences


Once you have decided to pursue your abuser(s) for sexual abuse, you may wonder what type of lawsuit would be best for you to file: criminal or civil? Understanding which option is best for you to choose comes down to the specific details of your case. To help you make an informed decision, we have outlined the key differences between the two types of lawsuits.

Basic Definition

A civil lawsuit is, essentially, any case that is not a criminal case. Civil lawsuits help protect, enforce, or fix the private rights of citizens. Criminal lawsuits, on the other hand, are formal charges claiming someone committed a crime.

Who Initiates Action

One of the most important differences between civil and criminal lawsuits is who starts legal action against your abuser. In civil cases, you or the person you choose to represent you initiate the legal action. In contrast, a government prosecutor initiates legal action with criminal charges.

Burden of Proof

“Burden of proof” refers to the responsibility to prove or disprove an argued statement. In this case, the argued statement would your claim that someone sexually abused you, an organization quieted your sexual abuse, a company was negligent in protecting you from sexual abuse, etc.

Criminal charges usually bear a heavier weight with burden of proof, because a government prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that an alleged abuser is guilty. With civil cases, only you or the attorney representing you must prove what happened. Because you do not have to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that abuse occurred, there is a lower burden of proof in civil cases. Instead of proving “beyond reasonable doubt” that abuse occurred, you, instead, present substantial evidence that the abuse occurred and prove your injuries and their value to the court.

Why Choose a Civil Suit over Criminal Charges?

Monetary Compensation

While some sexual abuse survivors choose to pursue criminal charges over civil charges against their abuser(s), the difference between choosing one or the other comes down to monetary or financial compensation. With criminal charges, if your abuser is found guilty, this can result in your abuser(s) being fined, sentenced to jail time, probation, etc. However, very rarely in criminal cases does a sexual abuse survivor receive any monetary compensation or “damages” from the conviction. In civil lawsuits, if your abuser is found guilty a jury can only award damages for the harm your abuser(s) inflicted on you.

While monetary compensation cannot undo the damage an abuser has caused in your life, many survivors decide to file a civil suit to receive compensation for their injuries or to hold their abuser(s) fully accountable for sexual abuse. Sexual abuse survivors often face extreme emotional and physical trauma from their abuse, so monetary compensation can help cover financial burdens created by necessary counseling, doctor visits, etc.

Connect with a Sexual Abuse Attorney

To help you make further decisions relating to your sexual abuse case, consulting with an experienced sexual abuse attorney is important. Based on the specific details of your case, a sexual abuse lawyer can help you make further decisions about where to file your lawsuit, who to pursue, if your case meets time requirements for filing a suit, etc. At AVA Law Group, we provide access to top-notch, experienced sexual abuse attorneys from across the U.S. with proven track records of success. To find out if you are able to file a lawsuit against your abuser, contact AVA Law Group today. We offer free initial consultations, and we promise that your information is protected whether you decide to sign with our firm or not. We value your voice and story, and we promise to problem solve in any way we can with your case.

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