Civil vs Criminal Liability: Difference and Comparison

Key Takeaways

  1. Basis of Liability: Civil liability involves violations of private rights, such as breach of contract. Criminal liability involves offenses against the public, and violations of laws enacted by the government.
  2. Standard of Proof: Criminal liability requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Civil liability uses a lower standard – “preponderance of the evidence.”
  3. Punishment: Criminal liability may result in fines, imprisonment, or even execution. Punishment for civil offenses is monetary damages. Criminal acts can also lead to civil liability.

What is Civil Liability?

Civil liability is a legal responsibility that occurs when an action of an individual or organization causes harm, damage, or injury to another individual or organization. It is a private dispute found in civil law. In these cases, the injured party is called the plaintiff. 

The plaintiff aspires to hold the alleged culprit or defendant accountable. The civil court analyzes the case and decides on compensation or other remedies to reimburse the losses. The loss can be anything, starting from accident to injury cases. 

Criminal liability focuses on offences, but this is not the case with civil liability. The aim of civil liability is to negate the losses of the plaintiff. It can be economic or non-economic damages.

The plaintiff must present enough evidence to prove that the defendant has caused them damage and that what they claim is true. Upon successful verification, the court will order the defendant’s liability and the required compensation.

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What is Criminal Liability?

Criminal liability is the legal responsibility of people who have committed crimes or illegal activities subjected to be punishable by law. In this liability case, the government is the prosecution, and the hearing happens in a criminal court.

These offenses to get charged with criminal liabilities can vary from minor violations to serious felonies. Activities including theft, fraud, drug, assault, trafficking, murder, and many others fall under the spectrum of crime and illegal actions. 

If the defendant is proven guilty, the court imposes appropriate punishment according to the law on the basis of the severity of the offense. Civil liability is private disputes, but criminal liability, on the contrary, punishes the offender for violating the country’s laws and societal norms.

However, the accused is reckoned to be innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution must present proof and arguments to affirm the defendant’s accountability. The defendant also possesses the legal right to defend themselves against the charges.

Difference Between Civil and Criminal Liability

  1. Civil liability is a legal commitment in which the court orders a party to pay compensation or follow duty. On the other hand, criminal liability is a liability that occurs when a person performs any criminal or illegal activities. 
  2. Civil liability occurs when a civil offense is conducted, whereas criminal liability arises after a criminal offense takes place.
  3. Civil liability aims to seek compensation for harm or damages, while criminal liability seeks to punish, ensuring public safety and justice.
  4. Civil liability follows the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and at the same time, criminal liability follows the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  5. The remedy of civil liability includes compensation or duty to perform some activities. On the other hand, criminal liability includes fines, penalties, imprisonment, and rehabilitation.
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Comparison Between Civil and Criminal Liability

Parameter of ComparisonCivil LiabilityCriminal Liability
Initiating partyGenerally, the injured party starts civil liability. Government or prosecution commences criminal liability.
PunishmentCivil liability does not include punishment and may lead to paying for the damage or providing equivalent relief.Criminal liability leads to various forms of punishment, such as fines, imprisonment, or even the death sentence, based on the gravity of the actions.
Prosecuted byThe injured party prosecutes it.The government prosecutes it.
Nature of proceedingsIt is a private dispute that takes place in civil court.The government prosecutes it in criminal court.
The following lawIt follows the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.It follows the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Last Updated : 08 September, 2023

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