Q: My teenage son was killed while a passenger in a car driven by a friend who was texting while driving. Can I file a wrongful death claim, or do I have to wait for the police to charge the driver with a crime?
Everyone at our Harrisburg traffic accident law firm is very sorry to hear about your son.
Pennsylvania law says that “any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” Reckless driving is considered a serious offense when it leads to a death, with a minimum fine of $25,000 and up to 12 months in jail.
Careless driving, a lesser charge, is subject to a fine of $500 and up to 90 days in jail when it results in death.
Law enforcement officials—both police and your local prosecutor—get to decide what charges to bring against the person who was driving when your son was killed. Texting while driving is itself against the law in Pennsylvania, so it is possible that the circumstances of the incident could support either a reckless driving or careless driving charge.
A reckless driving charge requires a higher standard of proof. However, you should recognize that the prosecutor has great discretion in bringing criminal charges. He may decide that the evidence is not sufficient enough to bring the case to trial, or he may negotiate with the driver’s criminal defense lawyer to get a guilty plea to a lesser charge.
So our answer to your question is no, you should not wait for criminal charges to be filed. You can file a wrongful death claim against the driver for texting while driving.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a key part of civil justice. It holds a negligent person responsible for the harm inflicted on family members by the untimely passing of their loved one. In the case of an unmarried teenager with no dependents, the damages from the wrongful death claim would normally go to the parents.
Often, parents turn away from the change to pursue a wrongful death claim because they feel it’s an attempt to profit from the death of their child—nothing could be further from the truth. A wrongful death lawsuit is designed to uphold justice by publicly identifying the person responsible for ending another person’s life, and by compensating the family as much as possible for their losses, such as:
- Medical expenses from the fatal accident
- Funeral and burial costs
- Emotional trauma
- Lost companionship of your son for the future
- Punitive damages for callously neglecting passenger safety
The dangers of texting while driving are well known. When a driver engages in texting, he demonstrates his indifference to the well-being of pedestrians, passengers, and the occupants of other vehicles. A wrongful death lawsuit is one of the best ways to hold this driver accountable and serve a warning to all other drivers.
Schmidt Kramer offers free, confidential case reviews for people who believe they may have valid wrongful death cases stemming from a Pennsylvania auto accident.
Contact our Harrisburg office at 717-888-8888 locally or 888-476-0807 toll-free to discuss the specifics of your situation with an experienced wrongful death attorney in Pennsylvania.