Consequences of Vehicular Manslaughter
Cars are dangerous when handled irresponsibly. Serious car crashes are often fatal, and when a negligent or reckless driver causes the death of another person, they must be held accountable for their actions. California law provides a means to exact justice on a driver whose wrongful conduct leads to the death of an accident victim. Continue reading to learn about the criminal and civil consequences of vehicular manslaughter in California. Call a compassionate Lancaster car accident lawyer if you or a loved one has been hurt by a negligent or reckless driver in the Antelope Valley.
Criminal Liability for Vehicular Manslaughter
California Penal Code section 192(c) addresses the crime of Vehicular Manslaughter. A defendant can be convicted of manslaughter whenever they cause the death of another person while driving and either:
- committing an unlawful act (e.g., fleeing the scene of a robbery)
- acting with negligence
- acting with gross negligence
The nature of the statute’s wording is such that the crime differs depending upon the level of negligence committed by the driver. If the defendant driver was acting with ordinary negligence (such as if they were texting while driving and killed someone in an accident as a result), then they can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. If the defendant is found to have acted with gross negligence, however, they can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony vehicular manslaughter conviction can carry a penalty of up to six years in prison.
Moreover, if the driver committed vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Civil Liability for Wrongful Death
In addition to the criminal ramifications of vehicular manslaughter, anyone who causes the death of another person through negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongdoing faces potential civil liability. In California, surviving family members and a representative for the estate of the deceased can sue the wrongdoer who caused the victim’s death for damages.
Civil liability is wholly separate from criminal liability. If the defendant is convicted of vehicular manslaughter, that conviction is strong evidence in favor of the wrongful death and/or survival action plaintiffs. Plaintiffs can recover civilly from an incarcerated defendant. Even if the criminal charges are dropped, however, the plaintiffs may still recover civil damages; the standard of proof in a civil case (preponderance of the evidence) is lower than the standard of proof for the prosecution in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt).
Between wrongful death claims and a “survival” claim (brought on behalf of the deceased accident victim directly), the plaintiffs can seek significant damages including:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Lost income the deceased person would have earned
- Compensation for the loss of companionship, guidance, and other emotional support the deceased person would have provided
- Lost gifts or benefits the deceased person would have provided
- Compensation for the loss of household services
- Medical bills paid by the deceased before passing
- Personal property damage
- Punitive damages, which can double or triple the size of the award
The surviving family members of a victim killed by a negligent or reckless driver may be able to recover substantial damages. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can walk you through your options and help you build your case. If your family has been devastated by vehicular manslaughter in the Antelope Valley, get help seeking damages from a dedicated professional by contacting a Lancaster personal injury lawyer at the Kistler Law Firm for a free consultation at 661-206-6990.