Godwin, Morris, Laurenzi & Bloomfield, P.C.

Liability for personal injury is separate from criminal charge

Compensation for injuries suffered in a vehicular accident in Tennessee is based on tort principles of negligence. If a person is injured due to the negligence of one or more parties in an auto accident, the at-fault party is liable for compensating the victim for the economic value of the personal injury suffered. A driver's civil law obligation to compensate the victim for injuries in an accident has little to do with whether a driver will also be arrested or convicted for criminal activity with respect to that accident.

The civil case and the criminal prosecution of a driver involved in an accident are two separate proceedings that require different standards of proof. For example, it takes more evidence to find a driver guilty of the crime of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt than it does to find him or her negligent and monetarily liable to compensate a victim of the accident. Thus, in a recent Tennessee case, the dismissal of DUI charges against a defendant does not necessarily relieve her of potential civil liability for monetary compensation to a victim of the accident.

In that matter, a 56-year-old female was charged with a first offense DUI in May 2014 after a collision with a motorcyclist on that date. She operated her vehicle negligently so that it pulled from Elkhorn Road into the motorcyclist's path and right-of-way on Highway 79, causing a catastrophic collision. The motorcyclist, a 39-year-old male, died in the accident.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol officer investigating the accident issued a DUI charge against the woman. The facts of that criminal charge or why it was recently dismissed are currently unavailable. However, these matters are separate from the issue of whether the woman should be held monetarily liable for the motorcyclist's personal injury and ensuing death. If she was negligent, and if that negligence caused the accident, she will be held responsible to compensate the family of the decedent for wrongful death damages.

Source: parispi.net, "PARIS, TN: Henry County woman cleared in accident that killed motorcyclist", Glenn Tanner, Feb. 26, 2015

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