Stephen Hasner | Car Accidents | May 3, 2023
Will you go to jail after a fatal car accident in Atlanta? Like many other legal questions, the answer is that “it depends.” If the accident was not your fault, then the answer is no. If the accident was your fault, then the short answer is “probably, but not necessarily.” How long you spend incarcerated depends on the seriousness of your mistake that led to the fatality in the first place.
Vehicular Homicide in Georgia
In Georgia, vehicular homicide is a “wobbler” criminal offense. This means the state can charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the particular case.
Felony Vehicular Homicide
To commit felony vehicular homicide, you must cause a fatal traffic accident while engaging in one or more of the following acts:
- Passing a school bus ;
- Reckless driving;
- DUI, whether you are intoxicated by alcohol or drugs;
- Attempting to elude a police officer; or
- Hit and run.
A conviction for felony vehicular homicide results in a prison sentence of 3 to 15 years. A ‘habitual violator,’ however, is someone who has committed three or more serious traffic offenses within the last 5 years. If a habitual violator commits this offense, the prison term ranges from 5 to 20 years.
Misdemeanor Vehicular Homicide
Misdemeanor vehicular homicide charges arise when a driver is negligent or commits an ordinary traffic offense that kills someone. An ‘ordinary traffic offense” simply means a traffic offense other than the five listed above for which the state can charge vehicular homicide as a felony. A conviction for misdemeanor vehicular homicide can lead to a jail term of no more than one year.
Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim is like a personal injury claim, except that the victim died in the accident that triggered the claim. Typically, the party that caused the accident must have engaged in misbehavior for a wrongful death claim to prevail. There are exceptions, such as when someone dies due to a defective consumer product.
In Georgia, certain close relatives of a deceased victim can file a wrongful death lawsuit seeking compensation for funeral and burial expenses, lost financial support, lost companionship and counsel, and more. These damages can amount to quite a bit of money.
A survival action is a lawsuit closely related to a wrongful death lawsuit. In a survival action, the personal representative (executor) of the deceased victim’s probate estate sues for compensation that the deceased would have been entitled to had they survived the accident. They might include, for example, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other categories.
Burden of Proof: Civil vs. Criminal
The burden of proof in a criminal proceeding is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The burden of proof in most civil proceedings, on the other hand, is “a preponderance of the evidence.” The difference between these two standards is the difference between night and day. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is much more difficult to prove.
The meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is fairly self-explanatory. The meaning of “a preponderance of the evidence,” by contrast, is enough evidence to justify a 51% certainty in the truth of your version of events. In other words, it is a “more likely than not” standard.
It is the difference between these two standards that can result in a common paradox. Sometimes, a defendant wins an acquittal on a murder charge in criminal court but loses a wrongful death lawsuit based on the death of the same person. This happened in the famous O.J. Simpson trial in the 1990s.
You Can File a Lawsuit During Criminal Proceedings With the Help of an Experienced Attorney
If you seek to file a wrongful death claim against a defendant whose criminal behavior caused the death of your loved one, you don’t have to wait until criminal proceedings conclude. You can file a wrongful death claim immediately. Contact a wrongful death lawyer to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your options.
Contact the Atlanta Car Accident Lawyers at Hasner Law, P.C. For Help
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