As a criminal defense lawyer I am always concerned when I have a client who is involved in a car accident resulting in a fatality. These accidents are routinely aggressively investigated by law enforcement, including the Highway Patrol's accident reconstruction team. This article discusses two important criminal laws regarding such accidents along with the advice I would provide anyone who finds themselves involved in a fatal car accident.
Under existing South Carolina law you can be held criminally responsible for a death caused by a traffic accident. The two main methods are Felony DUI with Death and Reckless Homicide.
In order to be convicted of Felony DUI with Death the State must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle while materially and appreciably impaired by drugs or alcohol. You then have to commit a moving violation that caused the accident. This offense carries a minimum of one to a maximum of twenty five years in prison.
In order to be convicted of Reckless Homicide the State must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner and caused the accident resulting in the death. This offense carries up to ten years imprison.
Immediately after a serious accident you may be transported by ambulance to the emergency room. It is not uncommon for law enforcement to travel to the hospital and attempt to question you. It is important to understand that you have an absolute right to remain silent and not answer police questions. Further if you want to tell your side of the story this does not have to be done right away - and can wait until you a better time.
Also after an accident you may be contacted by an insurance adjuster working on the claim. This may be a representative of your insurance company or one representing another vehicle involved in your collision. You are under no obligation to ever speak directly to an insurance agent. Anything you say can be used against you later just like if you were speaking to the police. Further a recorded interview can be turned over in its entirety to the police and even played later to be used against you in a civil or criminal trial. The insurance employee may attempt to trip you up with their questions in an effort to avoid being responsible for your medical bills - and may knowingly subject you to criminal prosecution in the process.
There are many dangers to providing an interview to law enforcement or an insurance company after an accident. If you provide wrong or unclear information it can result in you being responsible for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in civil damages, a denial of any insurance claim you may make and being criminally charged.
Most car accidents in South Carolina have a three year statute of limitations giving you plenty of time to submit your personal injury claim. You will not lose any of your legal rights by waiting until you finish your emergency medical treatments and are not on medication before you speak to the police or an insurance company. Further in all cases you should speak to an attorney with a background in both criminal defense and personal injury law before speaking to anyone about the accident.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious car accident contact the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, to discuss your rights. You may call 24 hours a day at 1-888-301-6004.