Troopers Delay in Responding to Fatal Crash Results in Charges Being Dropped
Under the laws in California and throughout the United States, police have no general duty to provide aid. Citing a recent case, a California injury lawyer examines how it can be difficult for injured victims to take action if they experience harm when police fail to live up to expectations.
Last March, five members of a Los Angeles family were killed in a car accident outside of Las Vegas. An 18-year-old Orange County native named Jean Soriano was arrested and charged with multiple counts of felony drunk driving resulting in death.
Mr. Soriano initially told police that he had consumed too many beers. However, his attorney argued that he was coerced and intimidated into taking the fall for the driver who had actually caused the crash.
Unfortunately, it is not clear exactly what happened in the accident, in large part because Nevada Highway Patrol troopers took at least 90 minutes to arrive at the scene of the fatal wreck, reported the Los Angeles Times. With insufficient evidence and the absence of detailed information that might have been obtained from a police report if officers had arrived sooner, the charges were dropped against Jean Soriano, explains the California injury lawyer.
The investigation has now turned to the other driver who Mr. Soriano indicated actually caused the wreck. This driver, 23-year-old Alfred Gomez, was not tested for alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident. No arrest warrant has been issued yet for Mr. Gomez and prosecutors have declined to indicate whether a warrant will be issued. Because of the unique circumstances, it will be difficult to gather evidence against Mr. Gomez that would allow for a case against him to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The confusion surrounding who was driving and the delay in police reporting to the accident scene means that the family who was killed in the crash is unlikely to receive justice by sending the at-fault driver to prison. Surviving family members of those who were killed in the accident will also have a difficult time pursuing a wrongful death claim because it is unclear which man was responsible for causing the wreck, according to the California injury lawyer.
Because the delay in the troopers’ response is a major reason why the driver is unknown and justice will not be done, there may be questions regarding whether the police can be held accountable. A lawsuit against the police department for the failure to respond could result in the surviving family members being able to obtain wrongful death damages.
Unfortunately, however, it seems likely that the troopers’ delay will not give rise to civil liability. This is because there is no general duty for police officers to protect the public unless there are very specific circumstances, such as a situation where the state created the danger to those in need of aid.
Courts in Nevada, California, and throughout the rest of the United States have denied liability in the past for injuries and losses arising from a failure of law enforcement officers to respond to requests for help, explains the California injury lawyer. Claims have also been denied when losses resulted from failure to investigate. In other words, there have been situations where people were actually injured as a direct result of police ignoring a request for help and the police still were not held accountable for their failure to provide assistance.
In this case, the family involved in the accident was already deceased when the police did not come. The officers failed to begin conducting an investigation in the timeliest manner possible. Since this is not a breach of a legal duty that would give rise to an injury claim, family members of the accident victims have no real recourse against law enforcement for any perceived failures.
If it can be determined who was responsible for the car wreck, then legal action can be taken against that individual, explains the California injury lawyer. The standard for personal injury and wrongful death cases is lower than the standard used for criminal cases, with personal injury claims requiring liability be proven by a preponderance of the evidence as opposed to the reasonable doubt standard used with criminal claims. This means that even if the responsible driver won’t necessarily face criminal penalties, the driver could still potentially be held liable for compensating surviving family members in a wrongful death civil lawsuit.
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