Can You Go to Jail for a Car Accident in Texas?
Causing a car accident is traumatizing, overwhelming, and stressful, especially if someone is injured or killed. Besides experiencing distress, people involved in these incidents also wonder if the responsible party could go to jail.
What do Texas laws say about this? Can a person go to jail if they cause a car accident in this state? Can you sue for emotional distress after car accident in Texas? Here's a detailed answer explained by experienced lawyers!
Fatal Car Accident Stats
According to the latest figures from the Texas Department of Transportation, authorities reported 4,481 deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents in 2022. The fatality rate on the state's roadways is 1.55 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles traveled.
In addition, 18,880 people sustained serious injuries after being involved in car crashes.
These figures show that one person dies in a car crash every 1 hour 57 minutes and one individual is severely injured in a motor vehicle accident every 2 minutes 9 seconds.
Unfortunately, a reportable car accident occurs every 57 seconds. Plus, although 2022 figures were down from 2021 reports, the number of motor vehicle crashes and fatalities is still alarming.
Can a Person Go to Jail for a Car Accident in Texas?
Essentially, it's possible to go to jail after causing a fatal car accident in Texas, even if the driver had no intention of causing the crash.
However, not all drivers that cause car crashes are punished with jail time in this state. The consequence or punishment depends on how the accident occurred.
Common Causes of a Fatal Car Crash in Texas
A car crash may have different causes. However, these are the most common:
Unfortunately, any car accident can be fatal depending on various factors, such as the road's conditions or the speed at which drivers drive.
How Are Fatal Car Accidents Handled Under Texas Law?
After a car accident involving death, prosecutors must evaluate each case's evidence and facts to determine the charges that apply to at-fault parties.
Many states have specific statutes to handle vehicle-related deaths. However, Texas laws are different. In this state, most car accident fatalities are described using one of the following legal terms:
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Impaired (DWI)
Driving with a suspended license
These elements and the circumstances surrounding each case determine the charges and penalties at-fault drivers may face. However, each case is unique.
What Happens When a Driver Is Reckless or Negligent?
Most car accidents that result in deaths are handled as criminal negligence or recklessness.
Drivers act recklessly when they blatantly ignore a law, proceed despite knowing that their actions are dangerous, and end up causing an accident.
On the other hand, criminal negligence occurs when a car driver causes an accident involving injury or death by ignoring a preventable measure. While Texas laws acknowledge that the at-fault party didn't intend to cause harm, there are consequences. However, these punishments are usually less severe.
What Is a Vehicular Manslaughter?
This legal term describes when a car driver is reckless and fails to follow traffic laws, causing an accident that kills a person. Speeding, DUI/DWI, texting while driving, running a stoplight or stop sign, reckless moving violations, and driving while sleepy may fall into this category.
Since manslaughter is a second-degree felony under Texas laws, a driver may face the following consequences if found guilty:
Fines totaling $10,000
2-year minimum state prison sentence
20-year maximum state prison sentence
Can a Person Go to Jail for Criminally Negligent Homicide in Texas?
Accidents can happen. The Texas law recognizes that a driver can accidentally cause the death of another person.
The individual who caused a fatal accident without engaging in reckless behavior may be charged with criminally negligent homicide. In these cases, compared to punishments for manslaughter, the consequences are usually less severe and may include the following:
$10,000 in fines
6-month minimum jail time
2-year maximum jail time
Hit and Run Cases Under the Texas Law
Hit and run, which describes when a driver fails to stop after a car crash, is considered a serious criminal charge in Texas. Therefore, a hit-and-run conviction often results in jail time.
Leaving the scene of an accident can be considered a misdemeanor or even a felony, depending on the damages and injuries caused.
The Texas law requires a driver who causes a collision to do the following:
Stop at the accident scene or return if they did not stop immediately
Call emergency services if someone sustained injuries
Administer aid while waiting for paramedics
Provide their contact information and insurance coverage details to the other party
A driver who caused a car crash and left the scene of an accident may face criminal charges carrying the following penalties:
Second-degree felony: These charges apply to drivers who leave the scene of an accident even though the car crash resulted in fatalities. Responsible parties can face two to 20 years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
Third-degree felony: These charges may apply to drivers involved in car accidents that resulted in serious bodily injury. Responsible parties can face two to 10 years in jail and fines totaling $10,000.
Misdemeanor charges: At-fault parties may face Class B or Class C misdemeanor charges if the accident only involves property damage. Penalties depend on the severity of the crash.
Final Thoughts: Will Someone Go to Jail If They Cause a Fatal Accident in Texas?
As explained above, it depends on each case's unique circumstances. Every detail must be evaluated to determine the charges and punishments.
However, jail time is likely when a driver is reckless or negligent, such as when a person participates in a street race or drives under the influence. A hit-and-run charge can also result in a prison sentence.
Contrastingly, car drivers that accidentally cause a car crash without acting recklessly may not face jail time.
Contact Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys Today!
At Schuerger Shunnarah, we truly believe no one should deal with someone else's negligent actions alone. Therefore, a car accident lawyer in Dallas TX is willing to help victims fight for their rights and hold at-fault parties accountable for their actions.
Our seasoned personal injury lawyers have extensive experience handling cases involving car accidents, medical malpractice, animal attacks, dog bites, workplace injuries, and more. Call us today and find the guidance you need. We go to war for our clients!