- Difference between criminal and civil proceedings
- Personal injury lawsuits
- What to do after a serious car accident
A fatal car accident made headlines on Nov. 3, 2021, when former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III crashed into another vehicle, killing a 23-year-old woman and her dog. The woman, Tina Tintor, was driving her Toyota RAV4 a few blocks from her home when her vehicle was hit by Ruggs’ Corvette.
The 22-year-old Ruggs was driving 156 miles per hour and had a blood alcohol content (BAC) twice the legal limit in Nevada at the time of the accident. The impact ruptured the Toyota’s fuel tank and caused a fiery explosion.
Both Ruggs and his girlfriend, who was a passenger in the car, were seriously injured but survived. The Corvette was in the center lane, then veered into the right lane behind the Toyota. Less than 2 seconds before impact, the Corvette slowed to 127 mph and rear-ended Tintor’s Toyota, which caught fire with Tintor trapped in her seat.
Ruggs’ legal liability is likely to result in criminal charges and a civil lawsuit.
CNN reported that Ruggs was charged with a DUI resulting in death, reckless driving, and possession of a gun under the influence of drugs and alcohol. He might also face a wrongful death lawsuit by Tina Tintor’s family.
Difference between criminal and civil proceedings
Most car accident liability is resolved in civil court proceedings (or out of court). Although 1 driver is often at fault for the accident, their actions might not have been criminal. Running a red light, speeding, poor judgment, and similar traffic infractions might get them a traffic citation, but likely don’t rise to the level of criminal charges unless they are especially reckless or intentional.
Ruggs’ accident involved both driving under the influence and excessive speeding to the extent of recklessness.
Only a state, federal, or municipal prosecutor or district attorney can bring a criminal charge against a defendant. If the at-fault driver is charged criminally, they either make a deal, admit guilt, or stand trial. The victim does not receive compensation for their injuries as a result of a criminal conviction, though they might feel vindicated or that justice has been served.
The penalties for criminal convictions could be jail time, fees, license revocation, substance abuse programs, or other requirements.
If convicted, Ruggs could serve more than 40 years in prison due to the severity of the charges against him.
Personal injury lawsuits
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil proceeding that is separate from a criminal case.
Personal injury law—including wrongful death lawsuits—is based on whether a defendant was negligent.
To recover damages from an accident, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care and that their carelessness resulted in an injury to the plaintiff.
Elements of negligence
To prove negligence, the plaintiff must establish 3 elements:
Duty. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between the plaintiff and defendant requiring the defendant to exercise a certain standard of care to avoid harming the plaintiff.
You can have a duty to someone you don’t even know — like Ruggs had a duty to Tina Tintor. Any road user has a duty of care to any other road user, whether it’s a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist. As a driver, you’re required to take into consideration the safety of any other person in the vicinity of your vehicle and drive responsibly so as to avoid causing injury.
Breach. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached the duty of care. A breach occurs when the defendant fails to meet the standard of care required.
Driving at a high rate of speed and while under the influence of alcohol are both factors that would be considered a breach of the duty of care.
Causation. The plaintiff must prove that their injury was caused by the defendant’s breach of the standard of care.
It would seem clear in this case that Ruggs was wholly liable for the accident and that his actions would certainly rise to the level of negligence or gross negligence.
“Gross negligence represents an extreme departure from the standards of ordinary care to the extent that the danger was either known to the defendant or so obvious that the defendant must have been aware of it.” Saltz v. First Frontier, L.P., 782 F. Supp. 2d 61, 75 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)
Types of personal injury damages after a car crash
A plaintiff (the injured person) is entitled to be made whole. They can recover compensation that would restore them to the financial position they would be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
Of course, no amount of money can restore your physical condition, heal wounds, or bring back a loved one who died. But the law is designed to provide the financial wellness you need so that the accident’s monetary costs are covered.
Victims of car accidents can claim damages that include costs for:
- Medical treatment, including hospital stays, doctor visits, prescription drugs, diagnostics, surgeries, etc.
- Ongoing rehabilitative therapy
- Property loss
- Loss of earnings, present and future if you’re unable to return to work in your previous capacity
- Emotional distress and mental anguish or PTSD
- Loss of consortium
- Wrongful death
It’s possible that Tina’s family will file a lawsuit against Ruggs for wrongful death. Wrongful death is a civil action brought by a victim’s family against a defendant whose negligence caused premature death.
A wrongful death claim usually has 2 parts:
Wrongful death actions are meant to compensate the survivors for damages such as the loss of emotional, financial and other support they had been contributing to the household.
A survival action, on the other hand, pays for damages suffered specifically by the victim as a result of the defendant’s actions. This includes pain and suffering, medical bills and other damages between the time of injury and death.
What to do after a serious car accident
If you’re ever involved in a serious accident, either as the at-fault driver, a victim, or a witness, there are a few things you can do to get help and preserve evidence so that the victim could be more likely to receive compensation later.
- The first priority is to call for emergency assistance. There were several witnesses to Ruggs’ accident, including a nearby business owner who tried to free Tintor from her burning vehicle. Certainly, if you can provide assistance without causing further injury to another person or injury to yourself, that’s a helpful thing to do. However, a call to 911 should always be one of your first actions.
- Get medical attention. Sometimes, you might not think you’re injured right away (even after a serious accident). But there are injuries that could take days, or even weeks, to show symptoms. It’s important to get a medical evaluation after any accident. If you end up having injuries that appear later, it could be difficult to claim that they were the result of the accident if you didn’t visit a doctor immediately.
- Get witnesses’ contact information. If you’re able to do so safely, try to obtain contact information for anyone at the scene who might have observed the accident. Sometimes, a well-meaning bystander will stay by an accident to try to help but then leave once emergency responders arrive. But those people could have valuable information that could help provide evidence about how the accident happened or the aftermath. Even if you are a witness and not involved, you could be helpful by gathering contact information from any other witnesses and then providing it to the police or one of the individuals involved in the accident.
- Get a police report. A police report will be a crucial piece of evidence for insurance or a lawsuit. If the police are called to the crash, there should automatically be a report that you can request later.
- Take photos at the scene. If you are uninjured and able to move around the scene safely, try to take accident scene photos. A photo or video can capture something that you might not realize is an important piece of evidence. Avoid photographing other people’s injuries, but you can photograph your own, as well as things like weather conditions, traffic signals, the position of cars, damage to vehicles, damage to other property, and other important details.
- Contact a car accident lawyer. If you’re involved in a serious accident, be wary of lawyers who try to solicit your business. Some unscrupulous attorneys will call, visit you in the hospital, or come to your home to try to get you to hire them to take your case. But don’t do it. It’s unethical (and illegal in some states) for a lawyer to come to you for business (unless they’re a close friend or family member).
A lawyer can help your case in a variety of ways.
First, depending on what state you’re in, it could be important to the case if you had any shared liability for the crash. Some states don’t permit a plaintiff to recover damages if they had any liability and others will reduce your amount of damages based on your percentage of liability. Your lawyer can use the evidence to reduce your share of liability in order to recover more damages.
In addition, if you were seriously injured and will require ongoing treatment, your lawyer can work with financial, medical, and actuarial experts to determine exactly how much your costs will be.