If a Defendant Gets a Civil Reservation when Pleading Guilty, How does it Impact my Injury Lawsuit in NJ?

Civil Reservations in Personal Injury Claims in New Jersey

Unfortunately, car accidents are common everywhere.  As much as we consider ourselves careful drivers, some of us are more so than others.  An accident resulting in injuries can involve criminal charges and civil litigation.  Sometimes it is easier to admit guilt and move on than to defend yourself in court.  New Jersey offers civil reservations to those drivers who have pleaded guilty to their motor vehicle offenses but do not want the plaintiff to use that result in a civil trial.

Understanding the Importance of Civil Reservations in New Jersey

A defendant is allowed to enter a plea of guilty for a motor vehicle infraction and ask the court that it be “reserved” for a civil suit. That means even though you admitted to being at fault for the infraction, your guilty plea cannot be used against you in a civil case as it is considered non-evidentiary. Civil reservations prevent the defendant from having their guilty plea used against them in a civil lawsuit claiming personal injury.

Common Cases Involving Civil Reservations in NJ

Civil reservations protect those who plead guilty to infractions and crimes where victims are harmed. The state of New Jersey encourages drivers who want to declare a guilty plea without going to trial, thusly saving time and money for the court system. 

For example, Ms. Brown is texting and driving.  She mistakenly runs a red light and hits Mrs. White’s car in the middle of the intersection.  Mrs. White is injured.  Ms. Brown goes to court and pleads guilty, pays the fines, and loses a few points from her license.  Three months later, Ms. Brown receives a notification that she is being sued in civil court for $500,000 in damages.  At trial, the plaintiff uses Ms. Brown’s admission of guilt as evidence, and she loses the case.  Had Ms. Brown requested a civil reservation at the time of her guilty plea, Mrs. White could not have used it as evidence of guilt in the civil suit.

Although less common, infractions involving victims who claim they have been harmed can be included in civil reservations as long as the defendant has pleaded guilty and requested a civil reservation when the plea is submitted.  These cases include assault, arson, or getting a DWI that results in assault by auto charges.

More common are the cases regarding traffic offenses such as DUI, failure to yield, speeding, reckless driving, and distracted driving.

How is a Personal Injury Claim Impacted If a Civil Reservation Is Requested?

When entering a guilty plea, the defendant can request a civil reservation at that moment.  This will prevent the guilty plea from being entered as evidence in a civil lawsuit.  This does not mean that the defendant cannot be sued for personal injury by the victim; it simply means the defendant’s guilt must be proven in the suit.  Success in a personal injury suit requires the plaintiff to prove there was an incident, the defendant was responsible for the incident, and the plaintiff was injured as a result.

How is a Personal Injury Claim Affected If a Civil Reservation Is NOT Requested?

Suppose the defendant enters a guilty plea but does not request a civil reservation. In that case, their admission of guilt can be used in a civil suit to demonstrate the defendant’s responsibility for the incident and the injuries succumbed by the affected parties.

Does the Victim Have Rights In These Cases?

The plaintiff has recourse in these cases.  The first is a request to object to the civil reservation.  The second is to pursue damages from the defendant through a civil suit.

What can the Injured Victim’s Attorney do to Prevent a Civil Reservation?

What can the Injured Victim's Attorney do to Prevent a Civil Reservation?

Several actions must be taken by the plaintiff’s personal injury attorney in municipal court.  First, the municipal court and prosecutor should be advised on who represents the victim.  Also, a request to be notified of all proceedings relevant to the case and the submission of an objection to a civil reservation.  The attorney should also confirm the day prior and the morning of the hearing, as changes in the court’s calendar can occur frequently. On the day of the appearance, the lawyer for the plaintiff should talk with the prosecutor about the objection to a civil reservation.  There is a possibility that the prosecutor will not include the possibility of a civil reservation in the plea agreement.  A copy of the transcript of the plea or any testimony from the defendant will also be requested.

What is Considered Good Cause for a Civil Reservation?

If by pleading guilty, the defendant would be subject to devastating financial consequences or if the defendant’s only motivation to go to trial is that a possible guilty plea could be used against them in a civil suit, those are “good causes” for the civil reservation.

What Does a “Good Cause” to Object Mean to a Civil Reservation?

Suppose the defendant will not be able to testify in the civil case (usually because they reside out of state) or will not be able to provide testimony at a deposition. In that case, a civil reservation could be not be given. A civil reservation could not be given when the damages wouldn’t be an impossible financial burden to the defendant; due to insurance reasons, only a certain amount could be awarded, or the award would have a limit on the amount adjudicated.

Using a Conviction as a Resource In a Civil Case Despite a Civil Reservation

Both the Judgement of Conviction and the facts of the case can be used in cross-examination.  If the defendant’s testimony is not in alignment with the facts presented in the original guilty plea, that can be addressed in the discovery phase of the civil lawsuit.

As the Injured Party, You can be Proactive by Working with a Knowledgeable Personal Injury Firm to Contest a Civil Reservation

If you or a loved one has been injured by another person, and that person is being prosecuted in connection with the incident, you need a lawyer who can give you the best options for your individual needs and work diligently to challenge a civil reservation from being entered in the defendant’s case.

The personal injury lawyers at Cohen & Riechelson have always excelled in taking on the needs of our clients and providing them with excellent representation in Princeton, Trenton, Titusville, Hightstown, Lawrence, and nearby towns in Mercer County. Our primary goal is to work with you and overcome the anxiety or concern you may have regarding your injury case and the possibility of the defendant pleading guilty with a companion civil reservation. Our years of experience and professionalism have made us a firm of excellence.

You can contact us by phone at 609-528-2596 to speak with an attorney at no cost or make an appointment online.  We look forward to hearing from you soon.