Criminal charges are an important way in which Alameda County holds distracted or otherwise negligent drivers accountable when their actions lead to the loss of innocent lives. However, the threshold of proof necessary to convict someone can be difficult to clear. In those cases, officials may not press charges at all.
The California Highway Patrol recently announced that charges are unlikely to be sought against a supposedly distracted driver in a fatal crash in a nearby community. The driver failed to slow down when entering a construction zone where cars were backed up, and collided with the car ahead of them. The impact caused a chain reaction, with the rear-ended vehicle of the first crash impacting another car.
In one of the cars effected, a 9-year-old girl was killed and her parents injured. A CHP spokesman has said that the driver responsible for the crash was apparently not intoxicated, although probably was distracted in the moments before the accident. The investigation has not concluded but charges, he stated, are unlikely to be sought.
When a negligent driver is cleared or charges are not filed after a fatal accident, a wrongful death lawsuit may still provide a measure of justice for a grieving family. As a civil action, a wrongful death claim can proceed independently of a criminal action. Families may pursue such a claim even if criminal charges are not filed, or even if a defendant is found not guilty. A jury can still award damages to the surviving family members.