When a driver allows his or her vehicle to leave the road and crash into a pole or tree, there is usually negligent driving involved. If there are no other vehicles involved, it is likely that the driver was guilty of impaired driving, distraction, falling asleep or some other careless mistake. If there was a passenger who was killed in the crash, the driver will most likely be liable for civil damages to the decedent's estate under New York law, generally for the economic value of that loss of life.
If the driver is charged with DWI while operating and causing a crash that killed a passenger, the authorities will likely bring other criminal charges. Generally, this may be a charge for vehicular manslaughter or similar offenses. The criminal charges, however, are independent of the civil claim that the decedent's estate may pursue. They are two separate actions in two separate jurisdictions.
These factors come into play with respect to a recent accident in Sag Harbor in which a driver lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a telephone pole, killing his passenger. The driver was a prominent 42-year-old New York City real estate developer; the deceased passenger was a real estate agent employed by a Sag Harbor firm. The driver is accused of leaving the dead passenger lying in the road and driving off with two flat tires.
The passenger's family is entitled to bring a wrongful death claim against the driver. Due to his prominent status and the fact that he was driving a late-model Porsche, it is likely that the driver had adequate liability insurance. This may include excess coverage that would be available to compensate the decedent's wife and two daughters appropriately for their losses. A wrongful death claim can be substantial because it includes in the damages the decedent's lost earning capacity for the remainder of his life. In this case, a judgment could be even higher if there is an impaired driving conviction, which could potentially result in the imposition of punitive damages in some cases.
Source: Southampton, NY Patch, "Real Estate Mogul Sean Ludwick Held on $1 Million Bond in Fatal Porsche Crash", Priscila Korb, Aug. 31, 2015