Civil Liability for Wrongful Death in Florida: A Separate Path from Criminal Acquittal

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In the legal realm, wrongful death cases often raise complex questions about culpability and justice. One such question is whether a person can be found liable for wrongful death in a civil case in the State of Florida, even if they were found not guilty in a criminal case related to the same incident. In this blog, we’ll delve into this issue and explore the legal principles that govern these distinct but intertwined proceedings.

The Burden of Proof in Criminal vs. Civil Cases

One of the key distinctions between criminal and civil cases is the burden of proof required for a verdict. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, an exceedingly high standard designed to protect the rights of the accused. However, in a civil case, such as a wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof is significantly lower. Plaintiffs need to establish their case by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions or negligence caused the harm.

The Double Jeopardy Principle

The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment contains the Double Jeopardy Clause, which protects individuals from being tried twice for the same offense by the same jurisdiction. This means that if a person has been acquitted of a criminal charge related to a death in Florida, they cannot be retried for the same criminal offense in a Florida state court.

The Independence of Civil and Criminal Proceedings

Civil wrongful death cases in Florida, while connected to the same incident, are distinct legal actions and have different objectives. The purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether the accused is guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and the potential penalties include incarceration and fines. Conversely, a civil wrongful death lawsuit seeks to compensate the surviving family members for their losses and establish liability based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Different Outcomes in Civil and Criminal Cases

Because of the varying standards of proof, it is entirely possible for someone to be found not guilty in a Florida criminal trial related to a death but still be held liable in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. The two cases proceed independently, and the outcomes may differ.

Factors Considered in a Civil Wrongful Death Case

In a Florida civil wrongful death case, the focus is primarily on whether the defendant’s actions or negligence caused the death and whether there is a legal basis for imposing liability. Factors considered may include:

  • Evidence of negligence or misconduct by the defendant.
  • Eyewitness accounts and expert testimony.
  • The standard of care applicable to the situation.
  • The plaintiff’s ability to prove causation.
  • Damages suffered by the surviving family members.


In the State of Florida, a person can be found liable for wrongful death in a civil case even if they were found not guilty in a criminal case related to the same death. This legal distinction arises from the differences in the burden of proof and the separate objectives of criminal and civil proceedings. Surviving family members seeking justice and compensation may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit to address their losses, even if a criminal trial resulted in an acquittal. It is essential to consult with an experienced attorney who specializes in wrongful death cases to navigate these complex legal matters and seek appropriate remedies for the tragedy endured.



Call 407.612.6464863.324.3500 today to speak with an experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer who proudly serves Lakeland, Orlando, and throughout the State of Florida.

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Sanga Turnbull

Sanga Turnbull is the founder and principal attorney at The Turnbull Law Firm, a Florida law firm helping personal injury victims in Winter Haven and Orlando recover compensation for harm done to them by the negligence of others. The comprehensive personal injury practice at The Turnbull Firm includes all manner of motor vehicle accidents, nursing home neglect and abuse, slip and fall, workplace and industrial accidents, medical malpractice, catastrophic injury, wrongful death, and more. Injury victims or their families are invited to call The Turnbull Firm for a no-cost, confidential consultation about any potential claims they may have.