Many times when a car accident causes the death of another, criminal charges are levied against the errant driver. The charges may be related to reckless homicide or driving under the influence, amongst others. While seeing an individual punished punitively through the criminal justice system may help bring a deceased's family members closure, it is not the only action that can be taken in an attempt to make themselves whole again. Instead, these surviving family members may choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
For example of one such situation one need only look to a recently adjudicated criminal case against a former state trooper. In that case, the trooper was accused of driving under the influence when he rear-ended another vehicle that was going as much as 60 miles per hour slower. The female driver of that car was killed in the accident. The former state trooper recently pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and involuntary manslaughter. Though a prison sentence may bring the deceased woman's family some sense of justice, it does nothing to ease their pain and suffering and pay for their daughter's medical and funeral costs.
The loss of a loved one is often unbearable. At a time when the family is grieving their loss, members often must figure out how to pay for medical expenses, funeral costs and, if applicable, how to recoup their loved one's lost wages. In many cases, filing a wrongful death lawsuit is the only way to recover these damages. If a defendant's negligence can be shown to have caused the deceased's death, then compensation may be recovered for these losses.
It is also worth noting that just because an individual is found not guilty during a criminal proceeding does not mean he or she cannot be held liable through a civil suit. Whereas a criminal conviction requires showing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, success on a civil claim is dependent upon showing negligence beyond a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower bar. However, it is often in a family's best interests to speak with an Pennsylvania attorney to discover which legal options are available to them.
Source: The Times Herald, "Former Pennsylvania state trooper pleads guilty in traffic death," Dan Clark, Mar. 4, 2014