CAN MY LAWYER PROSECUTE THE PERSON WHO INJURED ME IN ACCIDENT? PUT THEM IN JAIL?
Our personal injury lawyers sometimes represent people who have been tragically injured or the family of someone killed in an accident. Sometimes it is a drunk driver car accident, sometimes it is a defective product that the manufacturer knew was defective and decided to sell anyway, sometimes it is an auto accident with the driver on a cell phone or texting. Any of these very bad negligent acts can cause serious injury or death.
When the accident injury victim is so catastrophically injured or the family is so turned upside down by the death of a family member, they may understandably become very angry at the person who caused the unnecessary tragedy. Our attorneys often are asked by the injured client or their family if we can do anything to punish the person who caused the accident, i.e. make sure they go to jail. The answer to that question is usually “no.” We are “civil” lawyers and our jurisdiction is limited to bringing a civil claim for money damages against the person who caused the accident. This is true even if it was a drunk driver that killed someone or they were illegally texting and driving.
If the accident is caused because of breaking the law, e.g. drunk driver or texting while driving, the person who caused the accident may be prosecuted by the police and the government prosecutor and, if convicted, could possibly go to jail. However, that is not someone a personal injury lawyer can control. We do make sure the prosecutor knows we are interested and watching, because that at least puts some pressure on the prosecutor, but ultimately it is the prosecutor’s decision.
What a personal injury lawyer can do is obtain money compensation for our clients from the other person’s insurance. Sometimes the clients at least want us to get “every last cent” of the other person’s money. Unfortunately, we cannot even do that: There are debt exemption laws that limit what a lawyer can take from someone, as well as bankruptcy protection that will also protect the person at fault to some degree. Although we can pursue someone to the point that they at least have to declare bankruptcy, that is usually not in the best interest of our clients either. It puts the client through an unnecessary trial to relive the accident, it risks the insurance money because trials always have some risk, and it increases costs of the case so the client ultimately gets less money compensation. Ultimately, the client will realize that the satisfaction of having the other person go through bankruptcy is not worth it. Occasionally, the person who caused the accident will actually have money or assets that are worth going after beyond their insurance coverage. Our attorneys always investigate this possibility and we of course will pursue that if it is possible, but it does not come up very often.