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The Fatal Car Accident Hearing in New York- Part I

Car accidents can all too often result in the death of a pedestrian or fellow motorist. Tragically, this nightmare scenario occurred an astounding 1109 times in New York in 2013 resulting in the deaths of 1188 people according to statistics released by the New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles.

The victims of these fatal car accidents were as follows:

Drivers              625

Passengers        178

Pedestrians        344

Bicyclists            40

These figures are chilling. Many of these fatalities occurred between midnight and 6am on weekend days.  Oftentimes drugs or alcohol are found to be the culprit, while distracted driving due to texting or cell phone usage are also significant contributors to these incidents.  Regardless of the cause, however, a driver must be aware that there are three signifcant legal consequences that flow from a fatal accident in New York.  We discuss these consequences below.

Criminal Investigation

All fatal accidents are investigated by the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the roadway where the collision occurred.  These investigations, whether conducted by the New York State Police, or by County or local police departments are thorough and detailed investigations.  The driver of the motor vehicle faces possible homicide and related criminal charges if there is probable cause to believe that he or she operated the vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol or violated another specific criminal statute.  A criminal prosecution arising out of a fatral accident may result in the driver being sentenced to significant time in jail.

The Wrongful Death Suit

A lawsuit seeking damages for wrongful death may brought by the authorized representative of the Estate of the deceased against the driver in state Supreme Court.  The lawsuit can also include a claim for the victim's pre-impact terror as well as for conscious pain and suffering depending upon the circumstances.  The driver will likely have to testify under oath at an examination before trial (EBT) - also known as a deposition about the facts and circumstances of the fatal accident as part of the pretrial phase of the civil lawsuit. The representative of the Estate may seek damages over and above the limits of any liability insurance policy that would provide coverage for the car accident. The driver's home and other personal assets could be at risk.

The third legal consequence faced by the driver is the requirement to appear for a fatal accident hearing before an Administrative law Judge of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Whether or not charges are filed or a wrongful death suit can succeed does not alter the fact that the driver is burdened with the horrible reality and tremendous sorrow that they have caused the death of a fellow human being.  Preparation for the hearing is crucial.  The motorist facing such a hearing is urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney who practices in the county where the fatal accident hearing will take place

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