Personal Injury – Criminal cases v Civil cases

You have probably read about the devastating crash on the Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers in June 2015, which injured 16 people, two of whom were teenage girls who required leg amputations.

Criminal proceedings were brought against Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd (the owner of Alton Towers) as a result of failings to comply with health and safety legislation. Merlin later pleaded guilty to the charges and was last week fined £5 million, which is thought to be a record level of fine in such a case.

While the result is likely to have been of some comfort to the victims of the crash, this £5 million is a fine, and is not compensation for the victims.

Outside of the criminal case, it is possible, and indeed, bearing in mind the circumstances, fairly likely, that the individual victims of the crash are bringing proceedings themselves against Merlin.

How do Criminal and Civil proceedings fit together?

In cases such as this, it is quite common for there to be both criminal and civil proceedings. The criminal proceedings are there to punish the Defendant for what has happened, and to ensure that lessons are learnt. Civil proceedings, on the other hand, are to compensate the victims for the injuries they have suffered – they are not to punish the Defendant.

Personal injury claims can be made up of a number of elements, which can include compensation for:

– the injury itself – if, as in the Smiler case, someone has lost a limb as a result of the Defendant’s negligence, they will receive substantial damages to try to make up for such a horrific, life-changing injury

– medical treatment – which can be complex, extensive and sometimes permanent, e.g. future operations, transplants, replacements etc

– loss of earnings (while being treated and future earnings).

If, as in the Alton Towers case, the Defendant pleads guilty in the criminal trial (which can often take place before the civil matter is settled or reaches court), this will be of great assistance to the victims in their civil case and can be used as evidence in the civil matter. Further, if the Defendant has admitted liability in the criminal case, it is likely that it will do likewise in a linked civil case, leaving only quantum (level of damages) to be discussed and agreed or placed before a Judge.

If you have suffered an injury and would like to discuss a claim, please contact our experienced Personal Injury team on 01924 692125.