Civil law and criminal law are two separate legal areas, but there are times when they intersect. For example, when someone is involved in a personal injury claim, they often wonder how a past criminal offense might affect their case. The short answer to this question is, “it depends.”
Your personal injury claim should stand on its own merits and having a past criminal record should not matter; but unfortunately, the other side is likely to bring it up anyway. The first thing you should understand is that the defendant’s goal is to minimize the amount of damages they have to pay for your injury, so naturally, they are going to bring up anything that they believe might help their case.
Whether or not your criminal history will affect your case is dependent on a number of factors. These include the seriousness of the offense (e.g., misdemeanor or felony), how long ago it happened, the nature of the crime, what you have done since then to reform yourself, and how likable you are to a jury.
Before we get into these factors in more detail, it is important to point out that the vast majority of personal injury claims do not end up going to trial. Litigation is costly, time consuming, and unpredictable, so it is generally in everyone’s best interests to negotiate a settlement before the case ever gets in front of a jury. If you end up settling the case, your criminal background is likely to have little to no impact, depending on how negotiations go and how well your attorney represents you.
All of that said, a personal injury claimant should always be prepared to litigate the case if necessary. There are times when the other side is not willing to present a reasonable settlement offer. When this happens, you will need to be ready to go to trial, and this means being ready to address your past criminal offense and any other potential weaknesses in your case.
How your Criminal History might be Used Against You in a Personal Injury Case
A past criminal offense is likely to be most damaging to your claim if it was relatively recent and it has something to do with fraud. The goal of the other side is to undermine your credibility and imply to the jury that you cannot be trusted.
For example, they might argue that you are exaggerating the extent of your injuries, particularly the pain and suffering and emotional distress you have endured because of what happened. So, if you have a prior offense like writing a bad check or passing counterfeit currency, they might use this to try to discredit your testimony. A past felony offense such as a DUI with serious injuries or fatalities could also be brought up to attack your general character.
Ways to Mitigate the Effects of Having a Prior Criminal Offense
Although a criminal record could hurt your personal injury claim, there are a number of ways to minimize the damage it may cause. First of all, make sure you are fully transparent with your attorney and share everything you know with them about prior criminal offenses or anything else that is relevant to your case.
It is never a good idea to conceal anything from your attorney, no matter how embarrassing you may think it is. Defendants in personal injury cases have well-paid investigators whose job is to uncover information like this, so it is highly likely to come out anyway. It is best to get everything out on the table well ahead of time, so your attorney can develop the best strategy for addressing anything that could damage your claim.
One way your attorney might have you deal with a prior criminal offense is for you to be upfront and reveal it to the jury before the other side has a chance to bring it up. This way, you can discuss the situation on your own terms, talk about the good deeds you have done since, and show the jury that you are honest and transparent. With this approach, the jury is more likely to see you as a credible person.
Another approach might be to waive your right to a jury trial and have a judge decide your case. Judges tend to be less emotional than juries, and they are more likely to render a verdict based on the merits of the claim rather than side issues like an irrelevant past criminal offense.
Contact an Experienced South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured because of the negligence or recklessness of another party, having a criminal history should not prevent you from receiving the full and fair compensation you are entitled to. With the right mitigation strategy, you can minimize the effects of the prior offense on your record, and this starts with making sure you have strong legal counsel in your corner.
If your injury occurred in South Carolina, Peake and Fowler is ready to go to work for you! Message us online or call our office today at 803-788-4370 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.