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Negligence and the standard of proof

A man was killed near Raleigh recently when he was struck by another vehicle after he stepped out of his pickup truck. According to police, the man and his son were driving on North Carolina Highway 540 when the trailer they were pulling came unhitched. The man got out of the truck to reattach the trailer when he was struck by another vehicle on the roadway.

The man's son, who had also stepped out of the truck, was treated for minor injuries. Police said they had no plans to charge the driver of the other vehicle with a crime.

The absence of criminal charges does not necessarily mean that a person cannot be found liable for an accident in a civil claim. Most wrongful death cases are built on the legal theory of negligence, and so one of the most important questions in a wrongful death case involving a car accident is whether the driver acted negligently.

Drivers have a duty to others to exercise reasonable care, so as to avoid the risks of an avoidable accident. When they breach this duty, they have acted negligently. When their negligence leads to an accident in which another person is killed, the victim's family may hold the negligent driver liable for their damages.

In a case where a pedestrian is struck and killed, a court would ask whether the accident could have been avoided by any other reasonable driver. For instance, if the pedestrian was in a crosswalk with a walk signal at the time of the accident, the court might find that only a negligent driver would have struck the pedestrian. The picture becomes less clear in cases where the pedestrian was not in a crosswalk. The court must ask whether a reasonable driver would have been able to see the pedestrian and stop in time to avoid the accident.

Another important point is that the standard of proof is different in criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, a jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil action for wrongful death, he court must find the defendant liable by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard.

The losses suffered by family members after a fatal accident are very real. People who have lost a loved one in an accident can talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about their legal options.

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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