Brian White | August 14, 2017 | Houston Personal Injury Attorney
Texas is not one of the safest states for pedestrians. In 2016, a total of 678 pedestrians died in the Lone Star State. This is an increase of 21.5% from 2015. Motorists, pedestrians, and third parties have been at fault for these accidents in the past. In the event that a motorist strikes a pedestrian and causes injury or death, the driver may face civil and/or criminal consequences depending on liability. Speak to an attorney if you find yourself in this situation in Houston.
The circumstances of the pedestrian accident will decide whether the driver is guilty of criminal acts. Some pedestrian collisions stem from pure negligence, while others result from gross negligence or intent to harm. If the driver broke the law in any way that contributed to the crash, he or she could end up in the criminal courts. Examples include driving while intoxicated, engaging in a hit-and-run, or reckless driving.
The courts will consider these behaviors criminal if they resulted in the injury or death of another person. Criminal penalties for hitting a pedestrian can range from community service to jail time depending on the severity of the wrongdoing and its effects on the injured party. Drivers may face hefty fines and permanent criminal records. Some drivers could end up with “vehicular manslaughter” convictions and several years in prison.
The state brings criminal charges against a driver, not the injured party or surviving family. It is up to the state to prosecute a driver after striking a pedestrian if the state believes the driver is guilty of some crime relating to the accident. The driver may receive notice of a civil case filed against him or her at the same time as an ongoing criminal investigation. The state of Texas allows both types of cases to exist simultaneously.
The injured pedestrian or surviving family members after a wrongful death may bring civil charges against the driver through the county courts. A civil claim serves to reimburse the injured party for his/her losses, while a criminal case aims to punish the offender for wrongdoing. As a defendant in a civil claim, a driver may have to pay substantial attorney’s fees and other out-of-pocket expenses. The driver or his/her insurance company, if found at fault, will then have to compensate the plaintiff in the amount the court deems appropriate.
An at-fault driver in a civil lawsuit may have to pay for the injured pedestrian’s medical bills, missed work, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and lifelong care if necessary. A defendant may also have to pay “treble damages” for bad behavior – additional amounts meant to punish the defendant for egregious acts that contributed to the plaintiff’s harms. There is a damage cap that limits the amount of recovery to a maximum of $200,000 for exemplary damages, including punitive damage awards.
If the driver cannot afford to pay out the compensation award, he or she may have to declare bankruptcy. This can have lasting effects on the individual’s finances and credit score. Anyone involved in a pedestrian collision in Texas should retain an experienced attorney for legal counsel.