Most car accidents are civil matters. However, there are some cases where car accidents can result in criminal charges, such as manslaughter.
When does a car accident become manslaughter?
California law defines vehicular manslaughter as causing the death of another person while driving a vehicle unlawfully or negligently. Not all accidents that cause deaths result in manslaughter charges. Vehicular manslaughter requires negligent conduct which is when people engage in actions that they knew or should have known were dangerous but did not intend to harm anyone.
Negligent conduct often involves, but does not require, gross negligence which is when people engage in actions that are so reckless that any reasonable person should expect that a serious injury or death could result.
Example of vehicular manslaughter
A traveling nurse received a vehicular manslaughter charge after she ran a red light while driving 100 mph and caused an accident that resulted in the deaths of six people. In this case, the driver’s allegedly negligent conduct was driving a vehicle at a rate of speed that any reasonable person should recognize as likely to result in serious injuries or deaths. Vehicular manslaughter can be either a misdemeanor or a felony charge when it involves gross negligence. If the driver receives a felony conviction, she could face two, four or six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
When a person’s reckless driving causes the death of another person, a vehicular manslaughter charge may apply. This charge can result in significant prison time and other penalties, particularly when charged as a felony.