A fatal collision between an SUV and a motorcycle in San Diego County is a sad reminder that even the most careful motorcycle rider can become the victim of a motorist's negligence. Motorcyclists are even more vulnerable when they encounter a drunk driver.
The San Diego motorcycle accident occurred at 1:20 a.m.—a time when many motorists are returning home after leaving a tavern or party. Ivan Vicente Angeles was riding his motorcycle on Los Flores Drive in San Diego County when, after entering an intersection, he was struck by a Toyota 4Runner. Angeles was thrown from his motorcycle. He died from injuries sustained when he struck the curb. The 30-year-old motorcyclist would probably have lived another 50 years if he had fulfilled his life expectancy.
Sheriff's deputies stopped the driver of the 4Runner about a quarter mile from the intersection. He was arrested for hit and run, gross vehicular manslaughter, and drunk driving.
Can The Victim's Family File a Lawsuit?
Assuming the facts recounted in the news coverage are accurate, Ivan's death was tragic, senseless, and avoidable. The Angeles family is surely grieving Ivan's loss. No amount of money will return or replace the life of their loved one, but the payment of damages is the way our justice system assures that San Diego motorcycle accident victims or their surviving family members receive a measure of justice. Civil courts compensate victims for their losses while criminal courts pursue justice by punishing those who cause harm by their criminal negligence.
Provided they act within two years of Ivan's death, the Angeles family is entitled to file suit for wrongful death. Loved one's who can file a wrongful death claim in California are:
- the deceased's spouse and children, if there are any;
- the deceased's domestic partner, if he or she has one;
- the deceased's living parents and siblings;
- the children of deceased siblings;
- grandparents or lineal descendants, if he or she are still alive; and
- persons who depended upon the deceased's financial support.
A San Diego wrongful death settlement compensates an accident victim's family for the funeral and burial expenses they incur, as well as the lost income that the deceased would have shared with surviving loved ones if he or she had not died prematurely. Compensation also includes the value of gifts the deceased would have given to family members and the value of the household services (such as property maintenance and repairs) that he or she would have provided.
A surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to compensation for the loss of enjoyment of sexual relations while all loved ones who are entitled to make a wrongful death claim can receive compensation for the loss of the deceased's love, companionship, and protection, as well as the loss of the training and guidance that he or she would have provided.
Will Their Lawsuit Affect the Defendant's Criminal Proceeding?
The civil and criminal justice systems in San Diego California operate independently. A civil motorcycle accident claim can be brought against the responsible driver and his or her insurer whether or not the motorist is prosecuted for a crime. A criminal case can proceed regardless of the outcome or pendency of any civil lawsuit.
There are limited ways in which a criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit interact. For instance, if the motorcycle accident lawyer for the Angeles family files a wrongful death suit and wants to take the driver's deposition—that is, wants him or her to answer questions about the accident under oath before the case goes to trial—the motorist may be able to delay the deposition until the criminal prosecution ends. That can happen if the vehicle's operator wants to assert his or her right to remain silent in the criminal proceeding. Since testifying in the civil proceeding would jeopardize that right, these courts sometimes postpone depositions until criminal charges are resolved. That is one reason why criminal proceedings usually move more quickly than civil lawsuits.
On the other hand, if the motorist is found guilty in a trial, that determination may help the decedent's family in a civil lawsuit. At the very least, the motorist's criminal conviction after trial would probably encourage the driver's insurance company to settle the civil lawsuit. If the motorist pleads guilty, that admission of guilt might be used as proof of the vehicle operator's responsibility for the collision (depending upon the charge to which the guilty plea is entered). On the other hand, a plea of “no contest,” while resulting in a conviction, cannot be used as evidence in a civil trial.
Will Allegations of Hit and Run and Drunk Driving Help the Family in Court?
Allegations are not proof, and San Diego news stories are not always accurate. If the evidence establishes that the driver was under the influence of an intoxicant—meaning that his or her blood alcohol concentration exceeded 0.08 percent—that evidence will be strong proof of negligence. That proof might be supplemented by the officer's observations of the vehicle operator's behavior. If the officer noticed slurred speech, glassy eyes, poor balance, or other indicators of intoxication, those observations would help the victim's loved ones establish that the driver should have known that he was in no condition to drive safely.
If the motorist has no satisfactory excuse for his or her failure to stop immediately after colliding with the motorcycle, two potential explanations arise for his or her decision to keep driving. Either the driver was too drunk to realize that he or she had been involved in motorcycle accident or the driver kept driving because he or she knew that he or she was at fault and wanted to avoid responsibility for his or her conduct. Whether intoxication or consciousness of guilt explains the driver's failure to stop, either explanation would help the victim's family establish the vehicle operator's responsibility for the motorcycle accident.
Assuming that the evidence supports the allegations in the news story, this is a case that the driver's insurance company will probably want to settle. The facts create little sympathy for the vehicle's operator while the need to compensate the Angeles family for the unjust loss of their loved one is obvious. Most insurance companies would recognize the futility of taking a San Diego claim to trial under those circumstances.
Those in need of an experienced San Diego motorcycle accident lawyer are encouraged to contact the attorneys at Timothy J. Ryan & Associates for a free case evaluation. Call (800) 838-6644 to get assistance today.