How Do Criminal Convictions Affect Civil Liability?

Two weeks ago, Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. Constand was just one of dozens of women who have accused the former actor and comedian of inappropriate sexual behavior and rape, and many of them have filed civil lawsuits against Cosby.

Does the guilty verdict in one case necessarily mean Cosby must pay out in the civil lawsuits? And how do convictions generally affect a person’s civil liability?

Criminal Charges and Civil Claims

There are quite a few instances where civil lawsuits can be filed after or, as in Cosby’s case, before criminal charges are brought, based on the same behavior. Assault and battery is the most common, including sexual assault and rape, but negligence lawsuits following criminally reckless driving accidents, like DUIs, are also common.

Criminal convictions are based on the highest standard of proof: beyond a reasonable doubt. So a conviction — either by a guilty plea or jury verdict — can be considered proof of the conduct alleged in the criminal charges. Therefore, if person is charged and convicted of a criminal offense that relates to the same conduct alleged in the civil lawsuit, the conviction could be used as proof in the civil case, which generally has a lower burden of proof for plaintiffs. And in some cases, and civil court will accept a certified conviction as sufficient proof that the defendant is responsible for damages.

Statutes, Sexual Assault, and Settlements

In Cosby’s case, two women have filed civil sexual assault claims against Cosby, while others (barred by the statute of limitations), have filed defamation lawsuits based on Cosby’s public denials of their accusations.

Gloria Allred, who represents one of the sexual assault accusers said, “I definitely think it will have an impact on the jury to know that Mr. Cosby has been convicted in a criminal court.” It’s no guarantee that Cosby’s conviction will be admissible in court, however, unless plaintiffs’ attorneys can successfully argue it demonstrates a habit of behavior. “I think in this particular case it would be more likely than not that a judge would admit the evidence,” attorney Douglas Wigdor told Reuters, “because he did have a peculiar way of going about his sexual assault.”

The conviction — and Cosby’s apparent incarceration — could hasten settlement talks, according to Paul Callan, who sued O.J. Simpson following his acquittal on behalf of Nicole Brown Simpson’s estate. “Cosby’s lawyers would be wise to settle the cases early and quickly if funds are available,” Callan said.

If you’re wondering how a criminal conviction could impact a possible civil lawsuit, contact an experienced injury attorney today.

Related Resources: