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What a Recent Fatal Accident, and One Driver’s Criminal Charges, Can Teach About Negligence Lawsuits in California

There can be lots of different reasons why the driver who hit you in a vehicle crash did so. Sometimes, it’s just flawed driving; other times, it’s something more. Maybe they were speeding, maybe they were texting while driving, or maybe they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the driver who hit you was cited or charged criminally in connection with the accident that harmed you, then that citation or conviction may be very important to your civil case. Check with a knowledgeable San Mateo vehicle accident lawyer about your legal options if you were hit by somebody who was also charged criminally.

On this blog, you may hear some Latin words or phrases from time to time, and one partially Latin phrase that has come up more than once on this blog is something called “negligence per se.”

Why is that particular legal concept so important? Well, here’s an auto accident that can help you see why it potentially can be such a big deal.

As reported by, the crash was a chain reaction in a rural area between Petaluma and Sonoma. According to officials, a 78-year-old farmer headed eastbound on Highway 116 rear-ended a pickup truck driven by a 51-year-old Napa man. The crash was so powerful that it pushed the Napa man’s truck into the westbound lane of the highway, where it collided head-on with a Chevrolet Volt. The Napa man and the driver of the Volt suffered major injuries, and a female passenger in the Volt died, according to the report.

Preliminary investigation indicated that the farmer was not impaired by drugs or alcohol but the police still recommended that the farmer face vehicular manslaughter charges. The reason? Excessive speed.

The Four Parts of Proving Negligence…

So, how does the outcome of a criminal case impact an injury case in civil court? In an “ordinary” vehicle accident negligence case, you have to demonstrate (1) that the defendant had a legal obligation to drive in a safe manner (which, in California, all drivers generally have at all times,) (2) that the defendant failed to live up to that obligation, (3) that the defendant’s driving caused the collision, and (4) that the collision caused the harm you suffered.

This might all seem pretty straightforward, but proving that a defendant driver was negligent and liable to you is something that’s often more complicated than many people realize.

…And How You May Be Able to Avoid Have to Establish All of Them

Well, what if you didn’t have to jump through all of those four hoops? In some cases, you can avoid this requirement, and those cases are ones where the defendant is negligent per se. What negligence per se stands for is that, if a driver broke a law that is in place to protect others on the road, then that violation automatically establishes that the defendant was negligent… and that means you don’t have to establish those four elements of negligence listed above.

The violation that you can use to buttress your negligence per se case doesn’t have to be a major felony like vehicular manslaughter or even something like DUI. It can be something as simple as reckless driving or speeding. It just needs to be something where the driver was cited or charged, and the driver ultimately admitted guilt or was found guilty by a court. So, if the farmer from Sonoma County is found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, or even is simply found guilty of speeding (or admits to speeding,) then that possibly could be the basis for a claim of negligence per se by those harmed in the crash.

When you are hurt by a driver who was speeding, driving while distracted, driving drunk, or otherwise violating criminal laws, you probably have a lot of questions. Count the experienced San Mateo vehicle accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos to give you the knowledgeable answers, thoughtful advice, and diligent advocacy you and your family deserve. To set up a free consultation with one of our helpful attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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