In the "trial of the century", O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her husband Ron Goldman.

However, he was later found in civil court to be "liable for their deaths" and still owes 60 million dollars (as of 2017) to the victims' families:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/11/us/jury-decides-simpson-must-pay-25-million-in-punitive-award.html?mcubz=1

What does "liable for their deaths" mean here? Is it pretty much a conviction of murder, but done through the civil courts, since one cannot be found guilty in criminal court, due to "double jeopardy"?

1 Answer 1


When a person unlawfully kills someone else they have committed a crime against the state (murder, manslaughter etc.) and a civil wrong (a tort) against the victim (specifically, the tort of wrongful death).

The state responds with charging the perpetrator with a crime and attempting to prove that they did the deed "beyond reasonable doubt". If convicted the criminal is "punished" by incarceration or death or a fine or community service etc.

The victim (through their estate) or other affected people (family, dependents etc.) can respond by suing the perpetrator for compensation (money) for the damage they caused. If the plaintiff proves their case "on the balance of probabilities" the perpetrator will owe the plaintiffs whatever damages the court awards.

There are many crime/tort mirrors (many have the same name): theft and conversion, trespass and trespass, fraud and fraud, kidnapping and false imprisonment etc. Because of the different threshold of proof between criminal and civil liability, it is much easier to win a civil case.

  • As I understand it, the usual term in the US is "preponderance of the evidence."
    – phoog
    Oct 2, 2017 at 16:18
  • @D.Hutchinson No - he was tried by the state once for murder and found not guilty. He was sued by the family once for wrongful death and was found liable.
    – Dale M
    Oct 3, 2017 at 0:24
  • 1
    It means that he did not lawfully kill her and must pay compensation for that wrongdoing. Murder is unlawful killing but unlawful killing is not necessarily murder,
    – Dale M
    Oct 3, 2017 at 0:35
  • If you are driving a car that kills a pedestrian, that may be an accident, or it may be murder at the extremes. In a civil court, you killed the person, you are responsible for damages. And the bar is lower to prove that you were the driver of the car, and proving murder isn't needed at all for the civil case, just that you are responsible for the death.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 7, 2023 at 17:46
  • @gnasher729 you are not liable for an accident- you must be negligent to have liability
    – Dale M
    Feb 7, 2023 at 21:16

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