Imagine for a moment that a Maryland mother loses her husband in a tragic car accident. After police investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash, they realize that the man who struck the woman’s husband was drunk. Authorities arrest the at-fault driver, charge him with vehicular homicide, DUI and other crimes — which the diver must now face in criminal court.

The mother who lost her husband is left with the choice of pursuing a wrongful death action against the at-fault driver. It will therefore be important that she understands the difference between a criminal lawsuit and a civil lawsuit.

Wrongful death claims are filed in civil court, which is different from criminal court. In criminal court, government-employed lawyers — called prosecutors — pursue legal claims against the party who allegedly committed the crime. The goal of prosecutors is to get the accused party convicted of various crimes so that he or she will be punished for the offenses. These punishments may involve corporal punishment in the form of prison time, fines and other penalties.

Unlike criminal cases, wrongful death cases are handed in civil court. In civil court, private entities — such as individual people, business or organizations — pursue claims against a party relating to their physical, mental, emotional or financial injuries. If a party is found liable in a civil lawsuit, he or she will not be sentenced to corporal punishment like jail time, but he or she could be forced to pay financial compensation — or provide another kind of compensation — to the party that was harmed.

The results of a criminal case — like a vehicular homicide or DUI conviction — may be used as evidence to help a plaintiff assert his or her wrongful death claims in civil court. If you feel you may have the ability to pursue a wrongful death claim related to a criminal act that led to your loved one’s death, a Maryland personal injury lawyer can assist you in assessing the merits of your potential claim.