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Tracy Morgan Crash Raises Issue of the Burden of Proof in Criminal Prosecutions vs. Civil Lawsuits

June 16, 2014

This blog recently addressed the tragic semi-truck accident that caused severe injuries to comedian Tracy Morgan and the death of at least one other person. New developments reported by the media merit revisiting this story to address the difference in the burden of proof in criminal versus civil cases. The lower evidentiary burden in civil cases often means that a personal injury or wrongful death claim or lawsuit provides the best opportunity for an injury victim to obtain justice.

The truck driver that rear-ended the limousine transporting Tracy Morgan pleaded not guilty to criminal charges of vehicular homicide and assault by vehicle. The charges are based on reports that the driver had not slept for a 24 hour period prior to the accident. While lack of sleep has been reported widely by the media in terms of the cause of the collision, law enforcement authorities and the prosecutor have not indicated the basis for concluding that the truck driver was sleep deprived. Nonetheless, police did indicate in the criminal complaint that the driver had been awake for more than 24 hours prior to the crash.

CNN's legal analyst Paul Callan raised an interesting issue when he indicated that proving that the truck driver was sleep deprived will be critical to obtaining a conviction. In the state where the crash occurred, a motorist can be convicted if there is proof that the driver has not slept for 24 hours prior to the accident. Callan points out even if the truck driver can be shown to have been driving for an excessively long shift, the criminal case will be difficult because the driver may be able to claim that he pulled over and napped for a period of time.

While proving criminal liability in this case might be difficult without the driver admitting to the fact that he did not sleep during the 24 hours prior to the crash, a civil lawsuit might have more promising prospects. Commercial drivers are required to keep log books that document their hours of service. Federal law also requires that a truck driver not work in excess of 14 hours during any shift; a maximum of 11 of those hours can be behind the wheel.

Even if the criminal case is not successful, the driver can be subject to liability in a civil claim or lawsuit by establishing that he violated hours of service rules. If this type of violation occurred, the failure of the truck driver to avoid slamming into the back of the vehicle transporting Tracy Morgan may justify imposing civil liability. The violation of this federal safety statute can constitute "negligence per se" without the need to prove the driver was awake 24 hours.

When an injured party seeks justice by pursuing a civil claim or lawsuit, the burden of proof also makes it easier to prevail in a personal injury action. While criminal cases that put a defendant's freedom at risk require use of the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, civil lawsuits only apply the "preponderance of the evidence" standard in most cases. While a higher standard is required to impose punitive damages, the punitive damages standard is still substantially lower than the burden of proof in a criminal case.

The bottom line is that for some injury victims and their families, a civil lawsuit for damages can provide the best way to obtain a sense of justice and to punish a wrongdoer when the criminal justice system falls short, in addition to providing people with the financial compensation that they deserve. Our personal injury attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Source: CNN.Com

Category: Auto Accidents

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All information provided by our blogs is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult a Montlick attorney for details about your unique situation.

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