Not Guilty Verdict in Criminal Trial Does Not Stop Civil Lawsuit To Recover Personal Injury Claim

Posted on Mar 23, 2008

A man from Kaukauna, Wisconsin who was acquitted earlier in March of causing injury by driving drunk is preparing to face a personal injury suit next spring that stems from the same accident.

In addition to that, a second person who received personal injuries after she and another woman were struck by the SUV of Randall Ashauer while they were walking on a street in Kaukauna on April 1, 2007 has filed suit against him.

Outagamie County, Wisconsin Circuit Judge Mark McGinnis, who heard the six-day criminal trial of Ashauer, scheduled a three-week trial on the personal injury suit 19-year-old Kaukauna native Tiffany Pohl, who was paralyzed from the neck down by the accident, filed against Ashauer.

The other woman walking with Pohl, 21-year-old Kaukauna native Kayla Lamers, received minor injuries in the accident and filed a personal injury suit on March 7, four days after 53-year-old Ashauer’s acquittal of criminal charges.

This  civil case should not surprise those who closely followed the O. J. Simpson trials involving the death of his wife.

Simpson was found "not guilty" in criminal court of murdering his wife. However, in a later civil trial in which a "wrongful death" claim was made, the jury found that Simpson did indeed kill his wife.

How can this be ?

The answer lies in the fact that there are different issues raised in criminal trials than in  civil trials. In  Simpson's  criminal case the issue was: is the jury convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the state of California carried it's burden of proof that Simpson murdered his wife.

In the civil case the issue was : did the estate of Simpson's late wife convince a jury by the greater weight of the evidence that more probably so than not, Simpson killed his wife.

The burden of proof is much different in a criminal case where life and liberty is at stake than in a civil case where the issue is whether the defendant should pay money to the plaintiff.

Also the there is a different jury. In Simpson's case the civil trial was thought to have been tried in a venue which was less sympathetic to Simpson than to his late wife's family.

What about the legal doctrine known as the defense of double jeopardy? This defense provides a constitutional protection against having to stand trial for the same offense  for which the accused was previously found not guilty.

The double jeopardy  defense only applies in criminal cases.

If Randall Ashauer is found by the greater weight of the evidence to have negligently injured 19 year old Tiffany Pohl, he will have a judgment imposed against him  for the huge damages suffered by Pohl. The fact that he was found "not guilty" of drunk driving in the criminal case will not help him escape his responsibility to  the victim of his negligence.

Unfortunately, unless Ashauer has a big liability insurance policy, Pohl may have the same difficulty collecting that was experienced by Simpson's late wife's estate.