Will You Go To Jail After a Fatal Car Accident in Clearwater, FL?
October 20, 2023 | Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers | Car Accident
What happens if you kill someone in an accident? Unfortunately, accidental death by vehicle is distressingly common, with over 40,000 victims every year. Florida, with over 3,500 annual car accident deaths, ranks third in the nation.
If your driving causes a fatal accident, you’ve got a problem. Circumstances will dictate whether it is a financial problem (a lawsuit) or a criminal problem. If you did not cause the accident, you might walk away with no penalty.
Following is a list of possible consequences of causing a fatal car accident, starting with the least serious and ending with the most serious.
DUI and Causation
Suppose you are driving while intoxicated (DUI) and get involved in a fatal car accident. Let’s imagine, for example, that a person darted out in front of you chasing a basketball. If the court concludes that even a sober driver could not have avoided the accident and could not have avoided killing the person, then your intoxication did not cause the accident. In this case, Florida cannot convict you of the death of the victim.
Florida can still convict you of DUI even though it cannot prosecute you for the death. Florida DUI penalties include jail time, hefty fines, and suspension of your driver’s license. Possible jail time varies from days to years, depending on your previous criminal record.
Florida wrongful death law allows only the executor of the deceased victim’s probate estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This person is usually a close relative of the victim. The executor must prove you liable by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a much easier standard to meet than the “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” that applies in criminal law.
Wrongful death is a civil offense, not a criminal offense. The practical consequence of this fact is that you cannot go to prison over a wrongful death claim. You can, however, go bankrupt, because damages in wrongful death cases are typically large.
They are so large, in fact, that it is unlikely that you carry enough insurance to pay the claim in full. This means that Florida would hold you liable for paying the remainder out of your own pocket.
Florida’s vehicular homicide statute allows Florida to prosecute you for the death of the victim of a car accident that you caused through recklessness– a deliberate disregard for the lives or safety of others. Typically, a vehicular homicide charge arises from a fatal DUI in which your intoxication did cause the death of the victim. Other forms of recklessness, such as street racing, can also result in a vehicular homicide charge if they result in someone’s death.
Under Florida’s vehicular homicide law, you can be charged with vehicular homicide if your recklessness causes the death of the unborn child of a pregnant woman. If both mother and child die from the impact, you will have two homicide charges to deal with.
Prison time for vehicular homicide is a near certainty. Florida sentencing guidelines (which the judge can depart from with proper justification) recommend anywhere from 45 months to 15 years. If you leave the scene of the accident, the court can sentence you to as much as 30 years in prison.
Florida’s murder statute allows the state to prosecute you if you intentionally kill someone with a car. This might happen, for example, if you kill someone in a fit of “road rage” by deliberately causing a fatal car accident.
The key factor in distinguishing murder from vehicular homicide is intent. For murder, you must have either intended the death of the victim or acted with reckless disregard for the victim’s life. Florida distinguishes between first, second, and third-degree murder.
Under certain circumstances, Florida can sentence you to death for murder. Most convicted murderers, however, serve life in prison or are released after several decades behind bars.
You Definitely Need a Lawyer
Don’t even think about trying to handle a serious criminal charge without the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. If the state is charging you with wrongful death, you need a personal injury lawyer too.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyer from Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today
For more information, please contact Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Clearwater today. We have five convenient locations in Florida, including Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, and Lakeland.
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
601 W Swann Ave, Tampa, FL 33606
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
600 Bypass Dr Suite 224-D, Clearwater, FL 33764
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg Office
111 2nd Ave NE Suite 350, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
5006 Trouble Creek Rd Unit #200, Port Richey, FL 34652
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Lakeland Office
1543 Lakeland Hills Blvd Suite 18, Lakeland, FL 33805