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Guilty plea in fatal DUI crash could affect future civil suits

When people are injured or killed in a car accident caused by someone else, a personal-injury or wrongful-death lawsuit can compensate the victims or their families and help them recover from their loss. But first it must be determined who caused the crash and whether they were negligent in doing so.

A western Pennsylvania man has pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide after initially blaming someone else for causing the crash that killed a woman and seriously injured three others. The 24-year-old said he wasn't behind the wheel when his car collided head-on with another in Pittsburgh. Police found him in the driver's seat, but a man who lives near the crash scene said he saw the man curled up on the floor of the passenger seat after the crash while another man walked briskly away from the scene. The neighbor told a judge the man in the car was confused and insisted on getting up, so the neighbor helped him into the driver's seat, where he remained until police arrived.

The accused man had a blood-alcohol content of .226, nearly three times the legal driving limit, investigators said, and the data box in his car showed it was going nearly 70 mph when it crashed. But the man accused someone else of driving the car. That person testified during the trial that he was in another part of the state on the night of the crash. And DNA of the man in the car was found on the car's air bags. Shortly after that evidence surfaced, the man admitted to being the driver after all and pleaded guilty to the charges against him.

The man's guilty plea means he'll likely serve time in prison for the crash. It will be up to the surviving victims and the families of those who died (one of the injured victims died several months later) to file a personal-injury or wrongful-death suit if they wish to seek compensation for their losses, but they finally have a target, and his guilty plea could have an effect on the outcome of those lawsuits.

Source: Tribune-Democrat, "DNA evidence on air bags leads to arrest," The Associated Press, March 6, 2012

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