A civil remedy refers to the remedy that a party has to pay to the victim of a wrong he commits. A civil remedy is generally separate form a criminal remedy, although in certain situations the civil and criminal remedy may be related. Civil remedies require the cooperation of the victim and are voluntary.
When a person commits a wrong against someone else, this wrong can give rise to both criminal and civil liability. For example, if an individual steals something, he has broken a criminal law and is subject to criminal prosecution. The person he stole something from is also entitled to bring a civil lawsuit in order to recover for the loss of the item that was stolen. Civil remedies are most often monetary. They may include actual damages, such as lost wages or lost valuables, as well as pain and suffering.
There are several important differences between civil remedies and criminal remedies. In common law systems, civil remedies and criminal remedies must be pursued in different courts. The rules between the relationship between civil and criminal remedies differ in some situations, however; for example, in homicide cases in some areas, the civil remedy is merged with the criminal remedy.
In a criminal action, a government official must bring the lawsuit and seek the remedy. The victim need not press charges, nor even cooperate, in order for a prosecutor to bring a criminal action against an individual when the law is violated. The prosecutor pursues criminal remedies — including fines and jail time — in order to maintain public order.
The purpose of civil remedies is different. Only a victim who has been wronged can bring a civil suit seeking civil remedies. This means an accident victim or a person who is a victim can bring a civil remedy to recover against the person who caused his injury. In the United States, this is done under tort law.
The family and relations of the family may also bring a lawsuit in certain circumstances, such as wrongful death, if that family member was also injured by the damage to the victim. For example, if a man's wife was injured in an accident, he may have been wronged by his wife's injury. He may be able to sue for loss of companionship or for the emotional distress he suffered as a result of his wife's injury. Civil remedies, therefore, are designed primarily to make victims whole, or put them back in the position they would have been in but for the wrong that injured them.