The family of an Arkansas man who died in a hit-and-run auto accident received unfortunate news recently.
Fayetteville, AR -- (ReleaseWire) -- 09/18/2019 --The El Dorado News-Times covered the story in an article dated September 5, 2019, reporting on a development in the criminal case involving allegations of fleeing the scene. The special prosecutor announced that he was dropping the charges against the woman less than one month before the matter was scheduled for trial.
The special prosecutor assigned to the case by officials in Little Rock, AR stated that the case was weak. The incident was nothing more than an unfortunate accident, so he was unlikely to secure a conviction. Plus, the defendant would probably not serve any prison time for the crime of fleeing the scene. She had no criminal history and believed she hit a deer when she struck the victim. The 27-year-old woman faced up to six years in prison if convicted.
The news was devastating for the decedent's family, who sought justice in the death of their loved one. However, J. Timothy Smith, a founding partner at Elliott & Smith Law Firm in Fayetteville, AR, pointed out that survivors have other legal options through a civil lawsuit. "Many personal injury cases stem from criminal charges, but it's important to remember that these are two separate proceedings. The results of the criminal case don't always have a direct impact on the civil case."
Under Arkansas law, a victim of an auto collision or other personal injury accident can still recover monetary damages, even if the criminal case results in an acquittal. The same concept applies in wrongful death action when surviving family members are seeking compensation for the loss of a loved one.
Mr. Smith noted a key advantage in pursuing the at-fault party in a civil case. "The burden of proof is lower in civil court as compared to criminal cases. You don't have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The applicable standard is 'preponderance of the evidence,' which means that it's more likely than not that the defendant's negligent conduct caused the accident. Think of it as a 50-50 burden of proof."
If successful in a civil action for wrongful death, the family may be able to recover a range of damages based upon the extensive implications of the decedent's death. It is possible to obtain compensation for loss of guidance, companionship, support, and consortium, as well as out-of-pocket costs for funeral, burial, and medical treatment.