Can a Bystander Be Liable in a Georgia Hit-and-Run DUI Accident Lawsuit?
An unusual criminal prosecution involving a fatal hit-and-run accident from another state raises interesting questions about the reach of civil liability legal duties involving third parties. In the fatal collision, the drunk driver who is standing trial for vehicular homicide is joined with two other defendants, that may not be as obvious. One of the other defendants is the vehicle owner who lent her car to the at-fault driver who caused the fatal collision. While this is a more common basis for imposing liability on third parties for wrongful death or personal injury arising out of hit-and-run car accidents, the fact that a bystander is charged with accessory after the fact is unusual.
The fact prosecutors are pursuing the bystander for advising the allegedly negligent driver to flee the scene of the hit-and-run collision has garnered significant national attention. The drunken driver who fled the site of the accident was driving home from a party in the early morning hours when he fatally struck two pedestrians. The driver’s girlfriend owned the vehicle and was with the negligent driver when he hit the pedestrians. She is also charged with negligent homicide because prosecutors claim she knew or should have known that her boyfriend was too drunk to safely operate the vehicle. The 22-year-old bystander, who is charged with accessory after the fact for the fatal hit-and-run crash, allegedly encouraged the driver to leave the scene.
While it is too early to know what the jury will decide in the criminal case involving this fatal drunken driving pedestrian accident, the finding of guilt could suggest options for hit-and-run victims in civil lawsuits. It is conceivable that a person encouraging a negligent driver to shirk his or her responsibility under Georgia law to stop and render assistance could cause a pedestrian accident victim to suffer more serious injury or even suffer wrongful death because of the delay in obtaining medical treatment.
There are many situations where a hit-and-run driver is never located or a drunken driver lacks insurance so the ability to recover against a third-party bystander may provide an alternate means to obtain fair compensation (Uninsured motorist coverage can afford protection in this situation). Under this situation, the conduct of the bystander might be sufficient to establish liability because the conduct of the pedestrian contributed to the severity of the injury or death.
This blog has addressed the challenges that sometimes exist in identifying a viable defendant with insurance or the means to pay a settlement or judgment in a personal injury claim. When the obvious party that causes a collision is “judgment proof” (i.e. without means to pay a judgment), the search for viable third party defendants like other drivers, vehicle manufacturers, public entities, employers, vehicle owners and the like becomes critical to obtaining full and fair recovery for the personal injury victim. This case suggests that under the right circumstances that third person might even be a bystander.
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