Since former Vikings player Joe Senser’s wife, Amy Senser, came forward as the driver who caused a fatal hit-and-run accident in Minneapolis, news sources have been buzzing with information about both the criminal prosecution and the wrongful death trial.
Meanwhile, the public has had many questions. Why did it take so long to charge Mrs. Senser? What happens in a personal injury trial? And most importantly: how can we hold negligent drivers ” let alone drivers who have broken the law by leaving the scene of an accident ” responsible for their actions?
After a fatal car accident involving a criminal act, there will likely be two cases: a criminal case and a civil wrongful death lawsuit. These cases are separate from each other, but they are each important. The criminal case holds drivers responsible for their actions while the wrongful death lawsuit allows families to recover financial compensation for their loved ones’ deaths.
Criminal Charges After a Fatal Car Accident
The criminal case, which prosecutors handle, punishes a driver for acting against the law. It can take some time to investigate and reconstruct an accident and charge a driver. For example, it took prosecutors weeks to charge Amy Senser with felony criminal vehicular homicide for leaving the scene of an accident, even after she admitted to driving the car that hit and killed Anousone Phanthavong.
The Hennepin County attorneys will now have to show that Mrs. Senser was driving the car, that her car struck Mr. Phanthavong, that the accident caused his death, and that Mrs. Senser left the scene of the accident. If convicted, Mrs. Senser could face $20,000 in fines and/or 10 years in prison.
Minnesota Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The criminal trial generally runs concurrently to a personal injury trial. A St. Paul car accident attorney can help the family members of an accident victim bring a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses, pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of consortium and other damages.
In the Senser trial, Mr. Phanthavong’s family is asking for at least $50,000. However, that amount is a baseline â€” according to Minnesota’s statute on actions for death by wrongful acts, “The recovery in the action is the amount the jury deems fair and just in reference to the pecuniary loss resulting from the death.”
In addition, the family may be able to recover punitive damages where there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with deliberate disregard for the safety of others. For example, if Mrs. Senser was driving drunk when she caused the fatal car accident, Mr. Phanthavong’s family may also be able to recover punitive damages. A criminal conviction is not necessary to recover punitive damages.
In a Minnesota wrongful death lawsuit, both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence about what happened at the accident. Many of these lawsuits settle outside of trial, though some will go to jury trial. It can take months, even years, to reach a final resolution in a wrongful death lawsuit. There are also specific timelines and other rules that a plaintiff must meet. That is why it is important to speak with a Twin Cities wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to begin the process of recovering compensation for your loved one’s death.