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Driver Not Guilty of Homicide, But Wrongful Death Suit May Follow

The O.J. Simpson case brought a relatively obscure fact about the legal system to light: Even if someone is cleared of a criminal charge, he can still be found civilly liable for the same act. That's because there's a lower burden of proof for civil cases.

This may come into play after Erika Salloux of Cambridge was found not guilty of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation and negligent driving in the 2011 crash that killed 16-year-old Blake Van Hoof Packard in Provincetown, according to the Cape Cod Times. The non-jury trial was decided by a judge who found there was reasonable doubt as to whether Salloux had negligently killed Van Hoof Packard.

But just because there was a reasonable doubt, does that mean the family can't bring a wrongful death lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought by the surviving relatives of a person who has been killed by a wrongful act. These wrongful acts can range from a criminal homicide to a negligent accident.

A wrongful death action is meant to replace the financial contribution that a family member would have provided if they were still alive. It also can compensate for any pain and suffering that the victim experienced before dying.

This type of civil lawsuit can be brought against a defendant who has been cleared of a crime because the standard of proof is not as high as in a criminal case. This is because a person has a stronger right to be free from imprisonment than from paying money.

For a criminal trial, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the judge or jury must not doubt the guilt of the defendant. However, in a civil trial, liability must only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance means that there is enough evidence to show that it was more likely than not that the defendant was liabile for her actions.

Here, even though there is no criminal liability, it can still be proven that Salloux was civilly negligent when she hit Van Hoof Packard. Even with the differences in testimony that could have led to the not guilty verdict, a judge or jury could find that the evidence proves it was more likely that Salloux negligently hit the victim.

While a wrongful death lawsuit won't bring back your loved one any more than a criminal trial, it can help you recover for your financial losses and possibly help you heal and move forward.

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