After a week-long wrongful death trial in Minnesota, the family members of a twenty-two-year-old college student killed on a bicycle have said that while they are grateful for the jury award of $591,000. However, they would have preferred that the two men they blame for their son’s death be forced to spend time in prison. Felony murder and battery charges were dismissed against both defendants.
Sad details here. Apparently, the deceased disagreed with a member of a college hockey team. That member and several other players and recruits were said to have consumed 100 shots of alcohol that night. After the disagreement, the deceased apparently fled the bar on a bicycle, fleeing for his life while being chased by the boys. There were differing accounts of whether the boy was pushed, and by whom or whether his high level of intoxication caused him to crash. Regardless of fault, it is clear that the night was riddled with poor judgment and misconduct and that the death of this young man was absolutely senseless.
This garbage happens in college and usually does not end in death. Kids drink too much and do stupid things and, usually, no real harm is done. But sometimes things go really wrong, as they did in this case and this tragedy will impact this boy’s family for the rest of their lives.
Included in the judgment was $25,000 in punitive damages against one of the boys and $100,000 in punitive damages against the other.
Parents’ Anger About Criminal Charges
So often in wrongful death cases our lawyers handle, we focus on the civil case and the parents cannot get their minds off the criminal charges, usually the lack of criminal charges in motor vehicle accident cases. The parents in this case felt justice was not served. They are disappointed with a plea agreement in which one of the players pled guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, and aggravated battery and accessory to murder charges were dropped. The parents believe a conviction should have been made based on the evidence they have seen.
Criminal Charges in Wrongful Death Auto Accident Cases Absent Alcohol
In car accidents resulting in fatalities, criminal charges can be filed if the driver was found to have been operating the vehicle recklessly or negligently, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or driving at excessive speeds. However, in many cases, accidents are just that, accidental, and not the result of criminal behavior.
So determining whether a person should face criminal charges for a fatal car accident can be challenging. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver acted with criminal intent, such as an intent to cause harm or reckless disregard for human life. In some cases, proving that a driver acted with criminal intent may be difficult, and civil actions may be pursued instead. This is the law. But, understandably, it frustrates families.
This case is a little different because there really was criminal intent. But it reminds me of our client’s frustration and how settlement money is sometimes secondary to their quest for justice.