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Vehicular Homicide and the Difference Between Criminal and Civil Court

The legal system in Florida, as in most U.S. jurisdictions, is divided into two key areas - civil law and criminal law. Our Panama City injury lawyer practices in the civil courts, a system fully separate from but closely related to the criminal courts. In this post, we look briefly at the concept of vehicular homicide which is a criminal charge that has particularly close ties to civil injury cases arising from Florida automobile accidents.

Vehicular Homicide Charges Follow Deadly PCB Crash

A car accident in Panama City Beach has led to vehicular homicide charges, according to a WJHG report. Shortly after 4 PM on Saturday September 6, police arrived at the scene of a crash that claimed a woman's life. Police believe a 23 year-old man was driving west on Beach Drive when he ran through a stop sign and hit a car heading north on Upas Street. Florida Highway Patrol officers charged the 23 year-old with vehicular homicide when the crash killed one of two occupants in the northbound vehicle.

The Law of Vehicular Homicide in Florida

In Florida, vehicular homicide is defined by Florida Statutes Section 782.071. The criminal charge applies when a defendant drives recklessly, in a manner deemed likely to kill or cause great physical injury, and kills another person. Vehicular homicide is a felony and is considered more serious if the defendant failed to give authorities pertinent information.

Beyond fines and incarceration, a court can order community service hours in a trauma setting. Of particular importance for our purposes, the vehicular homicide statute makes specific reference to the right to bring a civil wrongful death claim for deaths caused by conducting violating the criminal statute.

Civil Versus Criminal Law

The Florida Bar provides an information sheet that discusses the difference between criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases are brought by the government accusing the defendant of a violation of law that amounts to a crime against society. In contrast, civil cases are brought by an individual/entity/group seeking money damages following a perceived wrong.

One of the most important distinctions between civil and criminal court is the burden of proof, the standard by which the plaintiff needs to prove the case in order to prevail. Given the "innocent until proven guilty" principle and the fact that the defendant's liberty may be at risk, the standard is higher in criminal court than in civil court.

Criminal plaintiffs must prevail "beyond a reasonable doubt" while civil plaintiffs only need to win by a "preponderance of the evidence" which means showing they have the stronger evidence. The lighter standard means a civil case can succeed even if a criminal case based on the same conduct has failed (ex. a wrongful death claim may prevail even where a vehicular manslaughter case does not).

Civil Injury Lawyer in Panama City

If you have been hurt or lost a family member in an accident caused by someone else's conduct, you should consult a civil injury lawyer regardless of whether a criminal case is successful or even where a prosecutor declines to file criminal charges. Don't wait for the outcome of criminal charges to contact an injury lawyer.

Medical care, where relevant, should be the top priority but it is never too early to call for legal advice. Contacting counsel as soon as possible can help ensure evidence is preserved and memories are fresh. An initial consultation with our Panama City car accident lawyer is always free and most injury/wrongful death cases are handled on a contingent fee basis so there is no charge for our services unless you recover money.

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