An accident liability lawsuit can be filed whether or not a defendant is accused of a crime or goes to trial. A wrongful death claim can move forward even when a defendant is acquitted in a criminal court. A verdict of negligence by a Cook County civil jury is not dependent upon a defendant's criminal conviction.
Just over two years ago, an SUV sped through an intersection and crashed into the side of a van. The van driver later died at a hospital of the injuries he suffered in the collision. A passenger in the van suffered injuries but survived.
The SUV driver abandoned his vehicle and fled the scene. The 27-year-old man was discovered at a nearby gas station attempting to wash blood from his body. The officer who found him detected an alcohol smell.
Investigators later confirmed through a blood test that the SUV driver was intoxicated at the time of the fatal accident. Witnesses told police that the vehicle didn't stop at a red light, and an accident reconstruction team said the SUV was speeding. There was another problem - Loves Park authorities said the defendant used a false name and age to obtain a state driver's license.
A 12-year sentence was handed down recently for the drunk driver. He was convicted of making a false application of affidavit, aggravated DUI involving death and a separate "aggravated DUI charge for causing great bodily harm." He received 10 and eight-year concurrent sentences, with two years added for the third charge.
A defendant's criminal conviction adds strength to a personal injury or wrongful death plaintiff's claim. Proof of driver behaviors like drinking and driving, speeding and fleeing the scene of an accident show a civil jury that a defendant disregarded the welfare of an accident victim. However, a driver's actions do not have to be criminal to be considered negligent.
Source: The Rock River Times, "Man sentenced to 12 years for deadly December 2012 crash" Online Staff Report, Jan. 29, 2014