Road rage can be a huge problem for some people on the road, resulting in tense exchanges, car crashes, and even violence on the highway. For a man in York County, SC, according to prosecutors, road rage led to murder charges and a dead motorcyclist.
How did a motorcycle crash turn into a murder charge?
When is a traffic fatality the tragic result of negligence that can only be compensated for through the civil courts, and when does a traffic fatality lead to an arrest? SC has an offense called vehicular homicide – what’s the difference between murder and vehicular homicide?
Although the alleged killer has been arrested and is now facing prosecution for murder, can the victim’s family also sue for compensation for the death of their loved one?
York County Road Rage Leads to Murder Charges
In July of this year, a motorcyclist in York County was killed in a crash that prosecutors say was caused by the other driver’s road rage:
[The defendant] was driving an SUV the day of the crash, said Willy Thompson, 16th Deputy Solicitor. [The defendant] intentionally pulled in front of [the victim’s] Harley-Davidson motorcycle traveling around 55 MPH and slammed on brakes, Thompson said in court.
[The victim’s] motorcycle crashed into a guardrail, causing [the victim] to be killed, Thompson said.
Thompson said in court [the defendant’s] driving actions were done on purpose.
“This was egregious,” Thompson said of the road rage by [the defendant]. “This was an intentional act.”
[The defendant] told police after the crash that [the victim] “deserved it…”
The driver of the SUV was not charged with vehicular homicide or manslaughter – he was charged with murder – an offense that carries 30 years to life in prison in SC.
Although the driver of the SUV is now facing murder charges, can the crash victim’s family also sue for wrongful death?
Motorcyclist’s Death by Road Rage Charged as Murder in Criminal Court – It’s Also a Wrongful Death Claim in Civil Court
Murder is, by definition, a wrongful death. When a murder is committed with a motor vehicle, there may be insurance coverage to pay the civil claim for wrongful death, although the recovery may be limited by the policy language and the policy limits.
Can you get punitive damages?
When you prove by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant’s conduct was willful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent, orintentional, jurors can return a punitive damages verdict in your case – the defendant is ordered to pay damages in addition to the actual damages you have proven, to punish the defendant and to discourage the defendant and others from committing the same conduct in the future.
SC has caps that severely limit the size of punitive damages awards – in the York County case, however, there will likely be no caps on the potential punitive damages award.
- If the defendant’s conduct could have resulted in a felony conviction (murder, vehicular homicide, or felony DUI, for example) the cap is increased from the greater of 3x actual damages or $500,000 to the greater of 4x actual damages or $2,000,000.
- If the defendant is convicted of a felony related to the accident, however, there is no cap on punitive damages in SC.
What’s the Difference Between Murder and Vehicular Homicide in SC?
Why was the driver charged with murder instead of vehicular homicide?
The difference is the intent. Murder, defined in SC Code Section 16-3-10, is when you kill a person with “malice aforethought:”
“Murder” is the killing of any person with malice aforethought, either express or implied.
Malice aforethought could mean a specific intent to kill, an intent to “inflict grievous bodily harm,” reckless indifference to human life, or the intent to commit a felony.
Reckless homicide, on the other hand, is not an intentional killing – the required intent is what is called “criminal negligence.” If you cause an accident with “reckless disregard” for the safety of others, and someone dies as a result, you can be charged with reckless homicide:
(A) When the death of a person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury received by the driving of a vehicle in reckless disregard of the safety of others, the person operating the vehicle is guilty of reckless vehicular homicide. A person who is convicted of, pleads guilty to, or pleads nolo contendere to reckless vehicular homicide is guilty of a felony, and must be fined not less than one thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. The Department of Motor Vehicles shall revoke for five years the driver’s license of a person convicted of reckless vehicular homicide.
If a driver is experiencing road rage, intentionally pulls in front of a motorcyclist, slams on brakes, and the motorcyclist dies, that is more than negligence.
That, plus the defendant’s alleged statement that the victim “deserved it,” tends to show that the driver intended to kill the motorcyclist, or, at a minimum, intended to inflict grievous bodily harm and showed a reckless indifference to human life.
Murder is murder, whether the instrument of murder is a firearm, a knife, or an SUV…
The Myrtle Beach motorcycle crash lawyers at Axelrod and Associates help motorcycle crash victims and their families to recover full and fair compensation from careless drivers who injure or kill motorcyclists on SC’s highways.