Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently reversed the criminal conviction of a man for vehicular homicide, finding that while his actions behind the wheel were careless – and possibly even negligent – they did not rise to the level of recklessness required to convict him of such a serious felony charge.
The case highlights the fact that while a civil action and criminal action may involve the exact same set of facts, each can have very different outcomes. That’s because the two systems have differing standards of proof. In the criminal case, one must prove guilt of a certain crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, however, there isn’t a “guilty” or “innocent.” It’s about negligence and liability. That means proving the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the duty was breached and the breach proximately caused costly harm or injury to the plaintiff.
Individuals who are victims of careless drivers may seek justice in the form of ensuring a person spend time in jail or refrain from driving again. In some criminal cases, judges will even order restitution paid to the victim. But where the criminal system focuses on punishment of the accused, the civil system aims to restore the injured, to whatever extent that’s possible.
In the recent case of Luzardo v. Florida, the facts that gave rise to the case occurred in May 2011 around 10 a.m., near the entrance of Gator Park, a tourist attraction on Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade. Surveillance video at the park entrance indicated the morning was clear and sunny.
Defendant was spotted traveling eastbound in his sport utility vehicle at 84-miles-per-hour. The speed limit in that area is 55-miles-per-hour.
Traveling in the opposite direction was the alleged victim, a tourist form the United Kingdom, who was headed to the park with three others to take an airboat ride. She was operating a leased vehicle, and was unfamiliar with both the roads and the vehicle.
She spotted a parking space at the park and began to turn left. However, one of her passengers shouted about the defendant’s oncoming vehicle. She responded by applying her brakes in the middle of the eastbound lane. When the defendant realized the other driver was not going to complete her turn, he attempted to swerve around her, but he did not manage to do so successfully. His vehicle struck the other in the right rear passenger door, killing one of the four occupants inside.
The Florida Highway Patrol initially charged the other driver with non-criminal violation of right of way by turning left into oncoming traffic. However, a year later, the state changed its position, dismissed the non-criminal violation and charged the defendant with felonious operation of a motor vehicle in a reckless manner and vehicular homicide.
He was ultimately convicted.
However, as the appellate court noted, this was not the correct outcome because case law has established that excessive speed alone will not support a conviction for vehicular homicide pursuant to Florida Statute §782.071. The statute specifically states that neither carelessness or ordinary negligence is enough to sustain a felony conviction for vehicular homicide. Rather, it requires proof of other elements of reckless driving.
For this reason, the 3rd DCA reversed the criminal conviction.
However, that does not mean a civil action could not still proceed. Because the law in Florida does not bar recovery of damages due to comparative fault, it’s possible the driver who was struck could seek damages for injuries. Likewise, the family of the woman killed in the crash might be eligible from compensation from both parties.
While traveling 30-miles-per-hour over the speed limit resulting in or contributing to a death may not be grounds for a vehicular homicide conviction, but a strong case for negligence could be made.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Luzardo v. Florida, Oct. 1, 2014, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Williams v. GEICO – Auto Insurance Step-Down Provisions Challenged, Sept. 6, 2014, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog