Losing a loved one in a tragic car accident is a devastating experience. When such an incident occurs as a result of someone else’s grossly negligent actions, including driving while drunk or on drugs, it can lead to both criminal charges of vehicular homicide and civil claims.
Understanding the difference between criminal vehicular homicide charges and wrongful death claims is critical for the victim’s survivors whether they want to seek justice, compensation or both.
Criminal charges are pursued by the state
Criminal charges related to vehicular homicide are brought by the prosecutor on behalf of the state – because society as a whole has an interest in stopping people from doing things that are wildly irresponsible and dangerous to others.
The purpose of a criminal trial is to punish the negligent driver for their actions and, hopefully, deter others from acting in a similarly destructive manner – assuming that the prosecutor is able to secure a conviction. Since guilt can only be decided when the court is convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that’s not always easily done.
Civil claims can be pursued by a victim’s survivors
Wrongful death claims are a type of personal injury claim, but they’re brought on behalf of the victim’s close surviving relatives (in this state, that’s the surviving spouse and next of kin).
The goal of a wrongful death claim is to hold the negligent driver financially accountable for the losses suffered by the victim’s family. That can include things like the loss of the victim’s financial support to their family when they were a wage-earner, or the loss of their services in the home. It can also include things like funeral costs, as well as the loss of their companionship and guidance. Because it’s a civil claim, the court only has to believe that the defendant is “more likely than not” guilty of causing someone’s wrongful death to award compensation to the survivors.
That means that it’s very possible to pursue a civil claim for wrongful death after a drunk driving wreck, regardless of what a prosecutor decides to do. Seeking legal support after such a terrible loss can make it easier to understand your options and help you remember that there are resources available to guide you through the challenges ahead.