Recently, law enforcement in San Antonio identified a woman as the victim of a hit-and-run accident on South W.W. White Road. The person who struck the woman may not have been aware of it, as they failed to stop and render aid, but this does open them up to the possibility of both civil and criminal liability if they are located. Failing to stop at the scene of a hit-and-run accident is a crime in Texas, and in addition, the deceased person’s family may seek to bring suit against the driver for wrongful death. If you have lost a loved one in this manner, it is important for you to understand your options, as well as the relationship between civil and criminal law.
Wrongful Death in Texas
Texas’ wrongful death statute is fairly straightforward, stating that a person is liable for damages resulting from an individual’s passing if it resulted from their (or their agent’s) “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” There are only a handful of family members who are permitted by law to bring a wrongful death suit – generally the deceased person’s surviving spouse, children, and parents. Anyone else is deemed to be too distantly related to have received tangible support from the deceased person in most cases.
In the hit-and-run accident example from South W.W. White Road, the woman’s family would conceivably be able to recover damages such as loss of companionship, mental pain and suffering, and lost wages, if they were able to establish the necessary legal criteria. To establish a case for wrongful death, the plaintiff (the decedent’s family) would have to show that the defendant’s lack of reasonable care was the direct cause of their loved one’s passing and that no other intervening cause played a role. This is difficult, but not impossible to establish if the facts are there.
Civil vs Criminal Cases
In cases involving hit-and-run, where someone is injured or killed, there can sometimes be confusion on the part of the decedent’s family, because Texas law makes leaving the scene of an accident a crime – if the accident involved injury or death, it is a felony, carrying anywhere between two and 20 years’ imprisonment (depending on the degree), plus heavy fines. Many people are familiar with the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and how it prevents double jeopardy – that is, being tried twice for the same crime – and think that since the driver may face criminal charges, they cannot file a civil suit for wrongful death. This is not accurate.
Because they are two different types of law, the Fifth Amendment does not apply in a situation like this – the defendant driver could not be tried twice in criminal court or sued twice in civil court, but one of each is permissible. Generally, the criminal case will move forward first, and then after its disposition, a civil suit may begin. This is because of the standard of proof required – the standard is higher in criminal court, so nearly anything that comes out there will be admissible in civil court, hopefully resulting in less time-consuming discovery required.
Call a New Braunfels Hit-And-Run Attorney
While there is no word yet on whether the woman has any family to file suit on her behalf, if your family is ever in this difficult situation, you need an experienced attorney to help you navigate what can be a time-consuming and even frightening legal process. The skilled New Braunfels hit-and-run attorneys at the Bettersworth Law Firm can offer knowledgeable and compassionate representation from attorneys who are well versed in this type of law. Call our offices today at 888-392-0039 for a free consultation.