Earlier this week, a drunk driver was convicted of murder after he caused a fatal collision in Orange County. According to news reports, the driver, Edward James Nani, was convicted of second-degree murder as a result of the accident that killed 77-year-old Amparo Lopez on March 31, 2018. The facts of the case as reported in the media are nothing short of shocking.
The Drunk Driver Had a History of Driving Under the Influence
In the case above, the convicted driver, Nani, had a history of being convicted of driving under the influence in the past. According to Orange County court records, Nani was convicted in 2010 of misdemeanor drunk driving and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 5 years of probation, in addition to fines and 18 months in a Multiple Offender Alcohol Program. In addition to this, according to the prosecutor in the most recent case, Nani passed out three times the day of the crash, blacked out five minutes after getting behind the wheel and spent the rest of the drive leading up to the collision in a stupor. What this is intended to and apparently did prove was that the defendant new his behavior was could cause serious injury or death. To no one’s surprise, it took the jury just two hours to convict Nani of second degree murder.
The facts above not only led to a conviction for second-degree murder, but in the context of any civil lawsuit for wrongful death they would likely be enough to establish the malice necessary to justify an award of punitive damages. Under California law, the surviving family members of Ms. Lopez could recover compensation for the loss of their relationship with her, any economic losses (such as the loss of financial support and/or the funeral and burial expenses) and punitive damages. Unfortunately, punitive damages are not something covered by insurance and must be recovered directly from the defendant themself.
The Criminal Conviction in a Civil Case
Evidence of a criminal conviction related to the same wrongful conduct alleged in a civil case may be used to prove “any fact essential to the judgment.” (California Evidence Code Section 1300) In the case above, Nani’s guilt for second degree murder and driving under the influence could be used to prove his civil responsibility in a wrongful death action. By way of example, Ms. Lopez’s surviving family members could use the criminal conviction in a wrongful death action to prove Nani was driving while under the influence and that he acted with malice. Allowing the use of the criminal conviction avoids wasting time proving facts in the civil case that have already been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal case. Additionally, allowing the use of the conviction avoids the potential for two juries (one civil and one criminal) arriving at different conclusions from the same set of facts.
What to Do After a DUI Accident
After a collision with a drunk driver, if possible, you should begin gathering evidence as soon as reasonably possible. If it can be done safely, this includes taking pictures of the accident scene and of any visible injuries sustained. Reaching out to an injury attorney who can investigate the accident, its cause and the injuries sustained can help. Mr. Ralph has 30 years of experience as a personal injury attorney handling DUI accident cases. His City of Orange office is conveniently located near three freeways for easy access. Mr. Ralph can also be reached anytime by email or simply calling his office at the number above. All consultations are absolutely free.