Someone I know it was driving recently when another driver ran a red light and hit them. The police were called, and the other driver admitted everything. In addition to being at fault for the accident, they were given some tickets.

Although I don’t have any plans of running any red lights, that got me thinking of whether there might be a better way to handle it if I did find myself in that situation.

On the one hand, I think you’d have to be a scumbag to try to lie about who was at fault or weasel out of paying for the damages. But on the other hand, I feel like admitting to the police what I did seems contrary to the principle of not having to incriminate myself.

Is there a way to accept civil liability without admitting a criminal violation? Are you allowed to tell the police, “I accept full responsibility for the accident, but I don’t wish to discuss what happened”?

I understand that the police might still figure out what happened and I might get the ticket anyway, but I would really rather not help an officer give me a ticket. (I’m not implying that I anticipate making a lot of traffic violations, but everyone makes mistakes.)

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    This is a pathological case of citizens who are really in contempt of their own democracy. No one likes to get a ticket, but your reaction already establishes a relationship with the police of something like parent vs. child. I.e. Can you get a cookie from Mom, even through Dad said no? Technically, yes, but what's the result on the family (in this analogy, your society and State)? Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 0:18

2 Answers 2


Is there a way to accept civil liability without admitting a criminal violation? Are you allowed to tell the police, “I accept full responsibility for the accident, but I don’t wish to discuss what happened”?

You can allow a default judgment as to liability to enter in a civil case (and then possibly even have a contested adversarial hearing on damages), or you can reach a settlement dismissing the case with prejudice in exchange for payment of a certain settlement without admission of liability.

Indeed, this is what actually happens in about 90%+ of car accident cases that aren't resolved at trial or in a motion for summary judgment (something that is quite rare in a car accident case).

Likewise, you can plea "no contest" or even being convicted following a trial of a traffic violation in connection with an accident, without the outcome of the traffic case having a binding effect on the outcome of a civil case, even though this seems contrary to the logic of how results in one case determine issues in other cases (called "collateral estoppel").

Basically, this rule has been enacted in most U.S. jurisdictions (usually by statute but in some rare cases by judicial decision), in order to prevent local traffic trial cases from turning into expensive high stakes battles that are really about liability for huge economic damages, in a traffic court process designed to efficiently deal with disputes in the tens to thousands of dollars at stake, rather than the tens of thousands to millions of dollars that are at stake in a personal injury case where there have been serious injuries.

However, while the outcome and plea in a traffic case in not binding in a civil lawsuit involving a related accident, any testimony given under oath in one case can be used in the other case in almost all circumstances.


That actually happens all the time. In fact,people frequently accept civil judgements in order to avoid criminal liability.

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    Welcome to Law.SE. Please take the tour and look at well-rated answers to understand what is considered helpful here.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 15:11
  • So here "helpful" answers are the ones that are factually incorrect?
    – Savage47
    Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 3:05
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    The key is to document your answer. In fact, you can edit your post to add documentation, and then you'll see your vote number go up. Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 4:05
  • @Aparente- Thanks, but I guess I'm assuming a level of understanding that doesn't exist here. For example, in order to prosecute a criminal case, the government has to have someone press charges. Often, those cases are handled in civil court and then the defendant refuses to press charges in criminal court. An example might be the Kobe Brant case.
    – Savage47
    Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 4:14
  • I think we can all agree that you're assuming a level of understanding that doesn't exist.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 3:55

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