What Happens When Someone Dies Due After an Ocala Car Accident?
Bill Allen | January 25, 2023 | Car Accidents
Florida reported 3,400 fatalities from traffic crashes in 2022. The early estimates for traffic fatalities in the United States are 20,095 deaths in the first half of 2022. Sadly, traffic fatalities occur at a rate of about 111 deaths per day.
A person dying due to an Ocala car accident could result in criminal charges. The state can file criminal charges against the person in criminal court. A criminal court judge hears the case.
The person might also face civil penalties. A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed in civil court. Typically, a jury hears wrongful death lawsuits if they go to trial.
The cases are different, and so are the potential penalties.
An Ocala Fatal Car Accident Can Result in Criminal Charges for the At-Fault Driver
Negligent or careless drivers cause many fatal car accidents. Distracted driving and drowsy driving are common negligent acts that can lead to a car crash.
However, some conduct could lead to criminal charges for a fatal car accident in Ocala. Florida criminal statutes have several charges that the state could file after a fatal car accident. The penalties for a conviction could include a county jail sentence or time in state prison.
Traffic offenses that could lead to criminal charges after a fatal car accident include, but are not limited to:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- Speeding and racing
- Running stop signs and red lights
- Fleeing from an accident scene (hit and run accidents)
- Driving too fast for the conditions
- Reckless driving
Criminal charges for a fatal car accident include felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors usually apply when there are only minor damages or property damage only. Felony charges apply when there is serious bodily injury or other aggravating factors.
DUI manslaughter is driving under the influence and killing someone while driving impaired. You can face up to 15 years in prison for a second-degree felony conviction with a minimum of 124 and half months. The judge could also revoke your driver’s license, vehicle impoundment, community service, and drug/alcohol treatment programs.
The At-Fault Driver Might Be Sued for Wrongful Death
In addition to the criminal case, the surviving family members might decide to pursue a wrongful death action. A wrongful death lawsuit is filed in civil court. It is separate from any criminal charges the state might file.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, you claim compensation for damages caused by the party who killed your loved one. Florida Statute §768.19 defines wrongful death as the death of a person caused by someone’s wrongful act, negligence, or breach of contract or warranty.
Under Florida wrongful death laws, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate files the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the estate and heirs. The surviving family members receive the proceeds from the wrongful death claim.
Surviving family members include the deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents. In addition, if other family members were dependent upon the deceased for financial support, they might receive compensation for a wrongful death claim.
Can a Family File a Wrongful Death Claim Even if No Criminal Charges Were Filed?
Yes. Because the criminal and civil cases are separate, the family can pursue a wrongful death claim for an Ocala fatal car accident even if the state does not file criminal charges. A person does not have to be charged or convicted for a crime to be liable for a fatal crash in civil court.
The legal elements of a wrongful death claim are different from criminal charges. Winning a wrongful death claim requires you to prove the following:
- The at-fault driver owed your family member a duty of care
- The at-fault driver breached the duty of care
- The breach of duty was the proximate and direct cause of your family member’s death
- The death of your family member resulted in damages and losses
Because all drivers have a duty to obey traffic laws and take reasonable steps to avoid car crashes, they have a duty of care. Therefore, operating a motor vehicle negligently or recklessly can result in a breach of duty.
If you can prove that the other driver caused the fatal car accident, you can recover compensation for a wrongful death claim. The burden of proof is lower for a wrongful death claim.
Criminal convictions require the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. However, the burden of proof in civil cases is by a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, you only need to prove there is a greater than 50% chance that the allegations against the defendant are true.
It is important to remember that the at-fault driver can raise defenses in the case. For example, if your family member was partially to blame for the cause of the crash, the at-fault driver might claim contributory fault.
Under Florida’s contributory fault law, a victim’s compensation for damages could be reduced by their percentage of fault for causing their injuries. Skilled personal injury lawyers understand contributory fault laws and how to fight back against the allegations.
Filing a Survival Action After a Deadly Car Crash in Ocala
In addition to the wrongful death lawsuit, the personal representative for the probate estate might file a survival claim. The survival claim demands compensation for damages the deceased incurred between the crash and their death.
For example, suppose the person survived the car accident and died two weeks later in the hospital. A survival action seeks compensation the person would have claimed had they lived. The survival action might demand compensation for medical bills, loss of income, and non-economic damages for the two weeks the person lived.
What Is the Deadline for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit After Someone Dies Due After an Ocala Car Accident?
The Florida statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years from the person’s death. Even though two years appear to be plenty of time to file a lawsuit, it is not.
Investigating the car accident and gathering evidence proving the case could take months. Furthermore, evidence could be destroyed or lost the longer you wait to file a claim. Typically, it is best to seek legal advice from an Ocala wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible after a fatal car crash.
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