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Homicide dismissed in crash but wrongful death possibility remains

The dismissal of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle charges against a 42-year-old Green Bay motorcyclist may not be the final chapter in a story that began in a roadside ditch in Oconto County. The scene could shift next to a civil court if the family of the passenger who was killed chooses to pursue a wrongful death claim. An issue that may arise is whether the victim assumed the risk of injury by getting on the motorcycle with someone who might have been intoxicated.

According to police, the motorcyclist admitted that he hit gravel and went into a ditch. The 39-year old female passenger died from multiple injuries. The police charged the motorcyclist with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle because he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.118 percent at the time of the fatal accident. The legal limit blood alcohol concentration for driving in Wisconsin is 0.08 percent.

Prosecutors recently asked the court to dismiss the charges, however, because they did not believe they had enough evidence that could prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors may still seek to charge the man with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

A wrongful death claim may be brought against someone whose negligence causes the death of another person. Because a wrongful death action is heard in the civil court and not in criminal court, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. This is not as high a burden as proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A personal injury attorney can help the family of a person who has been killed to obtain compensation for funeral expenses, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and other damages caused by another person's negligence.

Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, "Judge dismisses homicide charges in fatal motorcycle crash," Nov. 28, 2012

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