Recent news item highlights the fact that civil courts can sometimes provide justice when criminal courts cannot.

Bike AccidentIn December of 2013, entertainment attorney Milton Everett Olin Jr. was killed in a bicycle accident. While the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office still appears undecided on whether or not they will bring charges against the driver of the vehicle (who happens to be a Sherriff’s Deputy), Olin’s family is seeking justice in their own way by filing a wrongful death suit.

The Sheriff’s Department conducted their own accident investigation and gave the report to the DA, but Olin’s family says that they have still not been able to review this document. We do know that witnesses to the accident report that the Deputy’s vehicle failed to follow a curve in the road and instead proceeded directly into the bicycle lane where Olin was riding. The witnesses also report that the Deputy did not brake until after he had hit Olin.

From a search warrant affidavit recently obtained by the Daily News, we also know that the Deputy sent six text messages between 1 an 1:04 pm, which was roughly the time of the bike accident. This opens up a strong possibility that texting was the root cause of the Deputy’s inattention and negligence leading up to the accident.

Based on this evidence, it seems that Olin’s family has solid grounds for their wrongful death suit, which names both the Deputy and the Sheriff’s Department. The family is seeking unspecified damages and reports that a major motivation for filing the lawsuit is to seek closure in Olin’s death by ensuring responsible parties are held liable for their actions.

From available information, it is unclear why the DA’s Office feels uncertain about proceeding with a vehicular manslaughter charge against the Deputy. But this situation does serve as a useful reminder that both civil and criminal proceedings may be used in the pursuit of justice for victims of negligent or reckless behavior.

Indeed, often a civil case is the only way to hold an individual liable for their actions. This may be true if the actions leading up to the accident where not actually criminal, or if the evidence in the case was not strong enough to secure a conviction. Whereas in a criminal court guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a civil court responsibility needs only be suggested by a “preponderance of evidence.” One notable example of this concept in practice is the OJ Simpson case, where although Simpson was declared not guilty in criminal court, he was found liable for wrongful death in civil court.

If you have any questions about a wrongful death case and the potential impact of a correlated criminal case on your civil suit, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Fernando D. Vargas.