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A 57-year-old Independence man has been charged with murder in the deaths of five members of a family after a head-on motor vehicle crash in Kenton County. Police investigators concluded that the man was trying to pass another vehicle in a marked prohibited passing zone. Two adults and their three children perished in the crash that occurred on October 26, 2017.

DUI murder

Some people might think of murder as an intentional act, but in Kentucky, a person can be charged with murder through drunk driving. Pursuant to the Kentucky Revised Statutes section 507.020(b), a person can be found guilty of murder if he operates a motor vehicle when “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person and thereby causes the death of another person.”

Wanton conduct

The pivotal state of mind in section 507.020(b) is wanton conduct as opposed to intentional conduct. Kentucky Revised Statutes section 501.020(3) tells us when a person acts wantonly. It states that somebody “acts wantonly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by statute defining an offense when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but is unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts wantonly with respect thereto.”

To put wanton behavior simply, a person acts wantonly when he or she is fully aware of a risk and disregards it. The risk that a drunk driver takes is that driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both can cause severe injuries or even death.

The civil case

If the driver who caused the accident pleads guilty or is found guilty of murder, the criminal courts aren’t permitted to award any damages. They don’t have the authority to do that. Damages must be awarded in a civil court, and in that civil court, the claimant need only prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. A preponderance of the evidence means that the person’s story is more likely true than not true.

Punitive damages

These damages go above and beyond compensatory damages, but they’re generally not available in every accident case. They’re intended to punish a defendant and discourage others from participating in the same type of conduct. Entitlement to punitive damages must be proved by clear and convincing evidence which is a higher hurdle than a preponderance of the evidence. If an issue arises as to wanton behavior, a judge is allowed to submit that issue to a jury for consideration.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

Whether by simple negligence or wanton behavior, the loss of anybody in a traffic crash is a tragedy. Kentucky recognizes a civil cause of action for wrongful death. If you lost a family member as a result of the negligence or wanton conduct of a driver of a motor vehicle, you can contact us to arrange for a free consultation and case evaluation. We’ll listen to you carefully and answer your questions. Then we’ll let you know what we think we might be able to do for you. If we enter into a retainer agreement, we won’t even expect payment of any attorney fees unless we obtain a settlement or verdict for you. Don’t sit on your rights. The Kentucky legislature has set strict time limits on when you can bring a wrongful death case, so protect any rights that you might have by contacting us sooner rather than later.