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Civil vs. Criminal Liability in Car Accident Cases

January 30, 2017 Personal Injury

A vineyard tour turned tragic last summer when a limousine driver attempted to make a U-turn on State Route 48 in New York. The limousine was hit by a drunk driver. Four of the women in the limo sustained injuries, including the bride-to-be, and the drivers of both vehicles were hurt. In addition, four women were killed.

The case resulted in both criminal charges against the limo driver, as well as civil lawsuits filed by injured women and the families of the women who were killed. While the driver contested the criminal charges, his defense attorney admits there may be civil liability.

It is important to understand the differences between criminal and civil liability in an auto accident case. A New York City personal injury law firm can provide information to collision victims on the different ways the law holds drivers accountable for causing collisions to occur.

When and How Can Drivers Be Held Responsible for Car Accidents?

After the accident, the drunk driver was charged for driving while impaired, but he was not indicted by a grand jury on any charges in connection with the deaths of the women.  He was not charged with criminally negligent homicide or any other crimes related to the fatal accident because he was not actually to blame for the accident.

Instead, the limo driver was likely to blame for the crash, according to NBC New York. A reconstruction of the collision showed the limo driver tried to make the U-turn onto the highway, despite the fact his view was obstructed by a Jeep in the opposite U-turn lane.  Evidence suggests he did not come to a stop to allow oncoming traffic to pass before trying to make the turn.

Because of the limo driver’s actions, he was charged with four counts of criminally negligent homicide, four counts of assault, reckless driving, and other crimes. However, a New York Supreme Court Justice ruled that the indictment was flawed as a result of improper testimony to the grand jury.  The relatives of the victims were angered by this decision, but the Justice indicated he had agonized over it and had applied what he believed the law to be.

In commenting on the verdict, the defense for the limo driver told NBC New York: “we told you the lines between civil and criminal liability were blurred here. Today, with this decision the lines are crystal clear.”

This distinction is an important one. There are different rules for criminal charges versus civil charges, including a different standard for proving responsibility.

In a criminal case, a defendant cannot be found guilty unless it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he violated a law. In a civil case, on the other hand, a defendant could be held liable and made to pay damages in any situation where his liability could be proved by a preponderance of the evidence.

There are many car accident cases where no one is considered criminally liable because there is insufficient proof anyone violated laws that would result in a criminal conviction. However, a good number of these cases could lead to a successful damage claim by victims or families of victims seeking compensation.

When a defendant cannot be held criminally liable for an auto accident, a civil lawsuit may not only provide compensation for a victim but may also be the only justice the victim gets.  Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff can provide assistance in making a civil claim against a defendant for personal injury or wrongful death.