Alleged Distracted Driving Case Sees Second Trial

October 6, 2015 | Category: Car Accidents

It took two trials to reach a verdict in the criminal trial of a woman charged with gross vehicular manslaughter associated with distracted driving, according to an ABC7 – Los Angeles story. While the jury in the original 2014 trial was deadlocked, the jury reached a guilty verdict in the 2015 retrial.

According to the prosecution, this driver was traveling at 85 mph while using her cell phone to text and talk when her vehicle crashed into a stopped car, killing the driver. The victim's family takes some comfort in the guilty verdict and in the hope that the tragedy will serve to warn others about the dangers of distracted driving. However, each Los Angeles auto accident attorney at our firm wants traffic accident victims to understand that neither victims nor their families are likely to receive monetary compensation based on the outcome of a criminal trial alone.

The Differences Between Criminal and Civil Trials

When an individual is injured as a result of a criminal act, there is a likelihood of two separate and distinct trials:

  • Criminal trials are initiated by prosecutors employed by a government jurisdiction. Since traffic infractions violate state laws, charges are generally filed at the state level. The burden of proof falls to the prosecutor, who must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Although it is possible that penalties for a criminal conviction can include monetary restitution for victims, violators typically pay fines, are subject to incarceration or both.
  • Civil trials are initiated by any individual who seeks compensation from another party after suffering some form of harm. Many types of disputes can fall into the civil law category, including personal injury claims. The burden of proof falls to the person who makes the complaint (the plaintiff). These decisions are based on a preponderance of evidence (i.e. proving something was more likely than not to have occurred), which is a lower standard than is required for criminal cases. Guilty verdicts generally result in monetary payment made by defendants to plaintiffs without any form of government-imposed penalties.

Criminal Trial Outcomes Do Not Necessarily Affect Civil Trial Outcomes

At this point, the news does not report further plans by the victim's family regarding civil action against the convicted driver. It is important to understand, however, that even a criminal not-guilty verdict would not affect a personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Civil cases use a lesser standard of proof than is required for guilty verdicts in criminal cases. Even if the prosecutor did not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, a diligent auto accident lawyer might well have the preponderance of evidence needed to support the same basic case. The O.J. Simpson case is a good example of this phenomenon.

On the other hand, a criminal guilty verdict can help ensure a win in a personal injury case pertaining to the same car accident since a tougher burden of proof has already been met.

While we hope that no one ever faces such issues, you can call us toll free at (844) 478-3626 / (844) 4RUDMAN, or at our Los Angeles office (213) 375-3777,  or at our Studio City office (818) 769-6969, or use our convenient online contact form to learn more about your best legal options.

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