Can Texting and Driving Result in a Charge of Vehicular Homicide?
Vehicular homicide, also known as "vehicular manslaughter" occurs when a driver recklessly causes the death of another person while operating a motor vehicle. While people often think of vehicular manslaughter in the context of DWI cases, the charge has a much broader application and can certainly apply to people who unintentionally kill others as a result of texting while driving.
The death of an individual in a car accident case is not enough to convict someone of vehicular manslaughter. The state has to show a connection between the death and the conduct of the defendant; for example, if evidence from the defendant's cell phone shows that he or she was texting just before the crash – this could be damaging against him or her.
What are the penalties?
Under Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 19, manslaughter in Texas is a second degree felony. This charge carries a sentence between 2 and 20 years and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
A vehicular manslaughter case can have long-term consequences. First off, the criminal case will overlap with any related civil lawsuits. While a criminal plea will resolve the criminal case, it does not make the civil case go away. For instance, when a defendant pleads guilty in the criminal case, that plea is used against the defendant is a subsequent civil suit.
In a criminal suit, the judge can award actual damages for medical bills and property damage, but cannot award punitive damages such as loss of companionship or pain and suffering – those would be pursued under a civil suit.
How big is the problem?
According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), texting while driving has become increasingly more dangerous, causing traffic accidents and fatalities across the state. In 2012, there were 94,943 "distracted driving" crashes in Texas. These crashes resulted in 18,576 serious injuries and 459 deaths. (TxDOT)
Although Texas does not have a statewide law banning texting and driving for all drivers, the Texas Legislative Council reports that 40 cities have ordinances prohibiting texting while driving, including Austin, Corpus Christi, Denton, El Paso, and San Antonio; however, as of January of 2015, Dallas was not listed as one of the cities to have passed such a ban. Still, Dallas drivers can face vehicular manslaughter charges if the victim's death can be traced back to an episode of texting while driving.
Was your loved one killed by someone who was texting while driving? Contact Lenahan Law Firm to speak with a Dallas personal injury attorney. In a free consultation, we will answer your questions and explain the possibility of filing a wrongful death suit.