California Wrongful Death Lawyer Discusses Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Fatal Drunk Driving Cases

By May 15, 2010 January 21st, 2018 Blog | Wrongful Death Lawyer

Despite the efforts of state legislators to increase penalties for drinking and driving as well as the numerous public awareness campaigns over the last couple of decades to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, people continue to do so. Not surprisingly, drunk driving accidents continue to top the list of accident causes. Deaths related to drunk driving accidents also persist at an alarming rate. Recent statistics indicate that someone is killed as the result of a drunk driver every 45 minutes in the United States. That adds up to almost 12,000 deaths a year.

For the families of the victims of a drunk driver, the legal system can be frustrating, slow and sometimes may appear unjust. While most states have enacted tougher laws for repeat drunk drivers and even first time drunk drivers, for a variety of reasons many of them will still not spend any meaningful time in prison. Even drunk drivers that are charged with an accident that resulted in a death do not always go to prison. Some of them are not convicted at all and others that are convicted may end up with probation instead of prison time. This may seem like salt poured on an already huge wound for the families of the victims. So what can you do if you have lost a family member as a result of a drunk driver?

One option, according to California wrongful death lawyer Emery Ledger of Ledger & Associates, it to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Unlike the criminal charges that driver may be facing, a wrongful death claim is civil in nature. It can be filed contemporaneously with the criminal charges or after the criminal case has been resolved. Be aware, however, that it must be filed within the appropriate statute of limitations timeframe which can be anywhere from 180 days to two years.

The two important differences in a wrongful death lawsuit and the criminal charges that the driver may be facing are the burden of proof and the possible results if the driver loses. In a criminal case, if the driver loses, he faces jail time or probation. In a wrongful death lawsuit, if he loses he faces a monetary judgment against him that he must pay to the survivors. Also, in a criminal case, the driver can only be convicted if he is found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is the highest burden of proof used under our system of justice and requires that there be virtually no doubt of the defendant’s guilt in order for him to be convicted. It is intended to prevent the innocent from being wrongfully convicted but sometimes also allows the guilty to go free. In a wrongful death lawsuit the burden of proof is “beyond a preponderance of the evidence”. This burden is easier to meet and therefore makes your chances of winning higher. It is possible for a defendant to be found “not guilty” at a criminal trial but then be found culpable in a wrongful death lawsuit. It is for this reason that many families of drunk driving deaths choose to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.

If you have lost a loved one to a drunk driver and would like additional information on how to file a wrongful death lawsuit, please contact California wrongful death attorney Emery Ledger of Ledger & Associates at 1-800-300-0001 or contact him online at Wrongful Death Laws.