It took jurors three hours to return a guilty verdict in a case where a man, Lee Hutchins, crossed the center line on Highway 64 and killed the father of four young girls. Hutchins was tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.
This wreck that killed Michael Piercy also injured his wife and his two youngest daughters. Hutchins was sentenced to just over a year to three years for two of the charges and for the second assault charge; Hutchins received a suspended sentence with five years probation. The Judge ordered Hutchins not to drive during the five-year period.
The wreck, according to Hutchins attorney, was largely related to his medical condition. According to records, Hutchins blacked out behind the wheel of his car due to low blood sugar just prior to crossing the center line.
These guilty findings stemmed from criminal charges. Holding Hutchins criminally liable will likely provide a sense of justice for the family; but if the family wants to seek damages from Hutchins, they will have to go the civil route. A civil lawsuit allows for damages to the plaintiff, which translates into help with funeral costs, medical bills, and other costs associated with the accident.
How does a criminal conviction help your civil case? Often criminal cases will give rise to civil claims when someone is hurt or killed. The difference between the two is that in a civil negligence case, you have to prove multiple elements (duty, breach, causation, and damages) whereas in a criminal case, the prosecutor is largely trying to prove that harm was caused.
In this case, because Hutchins has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the plaintiff’s attorney could likely use that information to help prove the third element of negligence, which is causation. But what if the case has been tried criminally and the defendant has been found not guilty? You may still pursue a civil claim.
In a criminal case the burden of proof is much higher – beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas in a civil case the burden of proof is either by a preponderance of the evidence or by clear and convincing evidence. This may sound confusing, but really all you need to know is that to be held criminally liable, the prosecutor is going to have to prove a lot more.
This is a good thing for people who wish to bring a civil claim. Even if the defendant was found not guilty, they may still be found guilty of a civil claim because the burden of proof is much lower for plaintiffs. A lot of people consider preponderance of the evidence a “more likely than not” type theory, meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant is guilty of these elements.
It is not wise to wait until after the criminal case is complete before contacting an attorney regarding your case because depending on the claim, the statute of limitations may run. If you or someone you know has been injured due to the negligence of another, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today for your free consultation.