Every Chicago nursing home neglect lawyer at our firm appreciates that it often confusing for community members to understand the legal distinctions between criminal cases and civil cases. As we’ve discussed before, many individual incidents of Illinois nursing home neglect or abuse can result in both types of cases being filed. When a criminal case is filed it is because the prosecutors in an area decide that an actual crime has been committed. They therefore seek to punish the wrongdoers with either a fine, jail time, or both. Conversely, a civil case is filed when the victim (or their family) wishes to hold those responsible for the situation. Potential jail time is not at issue in these cases, but instead they can result in redress being provided to the victim and sometimes changes being mandated in policy at the facility.
Criminal cases are brought much less frequently in these situations than civil cases. Even when they are brought, often the same incident will result in an acquittal in a criminal case and a liability finding in the civil case. The main reason for this is the different standards of proof required in each case. In a criminal case there has to be no reasonable doubt that the crime was committed by the accused. However, in a civil case the plaintiff must simply prove that the misconduct more likely occurred than did not occur. While these distinctions may not seem all that clear in the abstract, when it comes to presenting evidence and actually proving conduct in court, the difference is significant.
In addition, all nursing home abuse lawyers know that the actual conduct itself must have been of an increased culpability before criminal charges are ever implicated. In other words, most of the time criminal charges are only involved when there is intentional abuse-such as a nurse physically punching a resident. That is different than more passive neglect-like a resident being left alone accidentally which results in a deadly fall. That is not to say the resident fall will never result in a criminal charge, but it is must less likely.
All of these distinctions exist, because the law generally makes it more difficult for one’s liberty to be taken away-such as being put in jail. Conversely, financial penalties for misconduct are deemed less intrusive, and so the standards are more reasonable when it comes to civil suits.
Of course, it is not important for the average community members to understand the specific distinctions between these cases. But it is important for residents not to mistakenly believe that because an acquittal is given in a criminal case for nursing home abuse than that means that the culprits necessarily did not do it or that a civil case will also result in a win for the defendant. That is not at all the case. For example, as reported in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, late last year a Cook County Criminal Court judge found a few nursing home employees not guilty of various counts of criminal neglect. The charges were filed after a resident died at an area nursing home. The resident had been severely burned on her legs while taking a bath. Then, after the burn, she was not seen by a doctor for nearly three weeks. Criminal charges were brought against her caregivers for their role in her death. The judge eventually gave the defendants a directed verdict-acquitting them of all charges. While this means that the individuals will not face jail time, it does not mean that they will be successful in a civil case related to the same incident.
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