The differences underlying criminal and civil lawsuits.

Criminal law happens when an action is made by the state, in the form of a prosecutor, against the accused who would be defended by an attorney, who can be liable up to the loss of liberty or even their lives in certain parts of the world. A civil suit on the other hand however, takes place between two parties, ranging anywhere from two people on the street to big companies like coca cola or even to adminstrative bodies. In civil actions however, only damages can be claimed, that is short of an out of court settlement, or a particularly creative judge, you'll probably be looking at a sum of money if you win, or a horrible legal fees bill if you happen to lose. Thankfully for civil suits that would be all you can lose, unlike criminal cases where jail or some form of restriction is a distinct possibility: usually a criminal act is more serious than a civil one (murder falls under criminal law) although there are exceptions. A class action suit might be made against organizations that had caused harm to people even if it had not broken any criminal laws at all.

A civil damages case costing thousands and thousands of dollars would supersede a simple shop theft case, so take heed that it is not a hard and fast rule. For example consideration in business law would be a civil lawsuit.

Unfortunately or fortunately, a person or entity can be actioned against on both civil and criminal charges on the single and same incident. The burden of proof and balance of probabilities will differ greatly however.

For a criminal case, the standard would be for the prosecutor (the agent of the state/government) is to proof his/her case beyond reasonable doubt. The defendant merely has to establish sufficient reason for doubt. This is made easier in countries with jury systems such as in the states. Regardless of country however, the burden of proof will always be on the part of the prosecutor to justify the charge. Certain legal defenses will however require the defendant to bear this burden.

In a civil case on the otherhand, the plaintiff (the civil party bringing forth the charge) only needs to prove a balance of probabilities, and would provide the initial cause of action. Similarly the refutation has a low standard of proof so this back and forth can go on for some time. Courts are also usually more lenient on such cases.

In the end, both civil and criminal cases, the defendant will be represented by an attorney, either appointed by the state or commissioned by the very defendant. Now that you understand this, you'll be better prepared if you ever wonder about such distinctions in the future.