If an immediate relative was killed by a drunk driver, you have the right to sue the driver for wrongful death. Wrongful death cases fall into the branch of personal injury law, which is very different from criminal law. By filing a wrongful death case, you are not going after the driver for a criminal charge; however, the court might. Here are two things you should understand about the differences in wrongful death and criminal charges.
The difference between civil cases vs. criminal cases
The first thing to understand is that a wrongful death case is considered a civil case. Civil cases involve one party bringing a lawsuit against another party. People convicted of civil charges may have to pay monetary settlements for their actions, but they will not get sentenced to time in prison. A person cannot serve a prison sentence for a civil crime.
A criminal case involves the state or locality bringing charges against a person that allegedly committed murder. If the court finds the person guilty, he or she could face prison time and other types of consequences.
These two types of cases are completely different; however, when a drunk driver kills a person, this incident could end up with both cases against the driver that was drunk.
You only control the wrongful death suit
The second thing to realize is that you only have control over filing a wrongful death suit. In other words, you cannot force the court and law enforcement agencies to go after the drunk driver. If they decide they want to, they will, but this is not up to you.
In many cases, drunk drivers are arrested after accidents take place. If this happened in your situation, it is likely the driver will be prosecuted for breaking the law. It will be up to the court whether they pursue it or not, and the court will be responsible for determining if the party is guilty or not.
If the case does end up in criminal court, the outcome of the case will not affect your wrongful death suit. A wrongful death suit is completely independent of a criminal case against the drunk driver, and winning a wrongful death case does not require proving without a reasonable doubt that the drunk driver caused your loved one to die. You must only prove that the person was at least 51% responsible for the death.
If you are suffering from the loss of a family member that died from a drunk driving accident, you should talk to a personal injury attorney such as Trammell & Mills Law Firm LLC. This is a great way to find out your rights and the statutes of limitations in your state.