While truck drivers and the companies they work for are most often held accountable in civil court where they’re required to pay money damages to those they injure or the families of those they kill, they can also be held responsible by criminal courts. It’s rare, but it does happen.
One Mississippi truck driver learned this the hard way after a fiery collision claimed the lives of Georgia resident Chelsea Stanbury and her three children. The victim’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Timothy Thomas Poppen and the trucking company he worked for.
Seven passenger vehicles were involved in the accident with the tractor-trailer. Several people were treated for minor injuries. Police say that several of the vehicles were on fire when they got to the scene. Responders also had to deal with hazardous materials that the truck was carrying that spilled out onto the highway after the accident.
Will Poppen Go to Prison?
It’s unclear as of yet what directly led to the accident or how it transpired. The police charged Poppen with the accident nearly a year after it occurred. It’s unclear what precisely led them to indict Poppen on four counts of criminally negligent homicide, but they must have some information they can use to press a prosecution.
Since these are serious charges for which Poppen can spend a considerable amount of time in prison, the stakes are very high for him. Negligence in a criminal context isn’t that dissimilar from negligence in a civil context. What is different is that the standard of proof is higher for prosecutors than it is for plaintiffs’ attorneys. Prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt while plaintiffs’ attorneys need only prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, plaintiffs’ attorneys must prove that their version of events is more likely than not true.
If Poppen is charged and convicted in criminal court, this makes it easier for the plaintiffs to successfully sue the trucking company and their employee since he has been convicted of the same thing by a higher standard of proof.
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Is Poppen Liable for the Accident?
The police have not released information concerning the accident, nor is the prosecution tipping their hand as far as what evidence they have against Poppen. But we can guess that since they’ve filed a criminal indictment against him that they have some parcel of information that indicates that Poppen was severely negligent.
Typically, criminal charges would not be filed in a traffic accident unless some other condition was met. The police may have evidence that Poppen was drunk or high at the time of the accident. They may also believe that Poppen fell asleep at the wheel in violation of federal statutes requiring that he take breaks after every eight hours of driving. Lastly, there may be some mechanical failure involved that should have been caught by Poppen had he performed the routine 24-hour inspections that are required by federal law.
One thing is probably certain. Prosecutors believe that Poppen violated some federal regulation that, had he followed the regulation, would not have led to an accident. That is the most likely reason that they have elected to file criminal charges against him.
The prosecution will need to prove how Poppen violated the law. Whether he was driving under the influence or failed to take the necessary rest breaks, they will need to show that the accident was avoidable had Poppen simply followed the regulations.
In many ways, this is a worst-case-scenario for Poppen. But the scenario is worse still for the family who lost their mother and three children.
Trucking Accidents and Wrongful Death Lawsuits
As mentioned earlier, the standard for civil wrongful death claims is lower than in criminal cases. Even if the prosecution fails to meet their burden of proof, the plaintiffs may be able to meet theirs in a civil case. Of course, having a criminal conviction to bolster their case would only help. But they will have to wait until the criminal case is over before the civil lawsuit will be heard.
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit in which the plaintiff is no longer alive to file a claim on their own behalf. Instead, the family’s estate and their loved ones file a lawsuit against the allegedly negligent party in a bid to hold that party accountable for the loss of love and life.
What damages are recoverable depends on a plaintiff’s relationship to the deceased. If the plaintiff is a spouse, they can recover damages for loss of financial support and loss of consortium. They can also recover damages related to their emotional grief. If the plaintiff is a child, they may recover damages for loss of moral guidance, emotional grief, and financial support. If the plaintiff is a parent, they can recover damages for emotional grief.
The victim’s estate can also recover damages related to any out-of-pocket expenses that the deceased incurred as a result of the accident. This generally happens when the deceased is brought to the hospital and hospital staff attempts to save their life, but can’t. The deceased incurs serious medical expenses that need to be compensated.
Lastly, if it can be shown that the driver of the truck was criminally negligent in the accident that claimed the lives of three children and their mother, the driver and the trucking company may also be on the hook for punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to plaintiffs when the defendant’s negligence is so gross or egregious that it deserves to be punished.
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If you’ve been injured or your loved one has been killed in a traffic accident, the attorneys at the Roger Ghai Law Offices can file a claim on your behalf. We can recover damages related to your injuries, pain and suffering, and lost wages. In the case of a wrongful death, we can hold the liable party responsible for their negligence. Talk to us today to set up a free consultation.
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