Former Georgia Staffer Files Her Civil Lawsuit Against Philadelphia Eagle Jalen Carter for Car Accident Injuries – Civil Liability vs. Criminal Culpability
Recently, Victoria Bowles, a former University of Georgia staffer filed a lawsuit against Jalen Carters, the former Georgia football player and current Philadelphia Eagle. This civil lawsuit was expected and it will likely result in some type of confidential financial settlement against Carter and the University who was also named in the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Bowles’s attorney alleged that Carter’s reckless conduct contributed to his clients injuries, pain and suffering. Carter was charged with reckless driving and drag racing, following the Jan 15, 2023 in Athens Georgia. The car crash killed a teammate, recruiting staff member and injured Bowles. This case presents an opportunity to explain criminal culpability vs. civil liability.
Civil Liability vs. Criminal Culpability
It is unclear if Carter will face discipline from the NFL since this occurred before he joined the league. In Georgia, reckless driving and drag racing are misdemeanors, where the maximum fine $1,000 and 1 year in jail, in addition to loss of license and insurance points.
Carter was not charged with any felony crimes. The now Philadelphia Eagle pled no contest to reckless driving and racing. He received 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine, 80 hours of community service and must attend a state-approved defensive driving course. The civil lawsuit will probably incorporate the findings from the criminal case into a civil action.
Carter pled no contest as opposed to guilty to mitigate his liability in a civil lawsuit. His criminal defense lawyers probably advised him to proceed in this way. A no contest and a guilty plea are virtually the same except that the accused does not accept responsibility for his action but does nothing to contest the charges or establish reasonable doubt.
It is important to understand that the evidentiary standard in a civil lawsuit is “by a preponderance of the evidence—more probable than not” while the burden of proof in a criminal prosecution is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The plaintiff has the burden in a civil case while the prosecution has the burden of proof in a criminal case.
What is Reckless Driving in Pennsylvania and New Jersey?
In New Jersey Reckless driving (39:4-96) is committed when a person drives his or her car “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard” of the rights of safety of others, in the manner that endangers of likely endangers a person or property. Reckless driving subjects a person of up to 60 days in jail and a maximum fine of $200.00. A second offense subjects a person of up to 3 months in jail and up to a $500.00 fine.
In Pennsylvania, reckless driving is committed when a person drives any vehicle in a “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property under Tittle 75, Section 3736 of Pennsylvania’s traffic code.
A lesser offense than reckless driving is careless driving. Careless driving is committed when the person drives the vehicle “without due caution and circumspection” or in such a way that it endangers or likely endangers a person or property. Careless driving is a much better alternative to reckless driving. In Pennsylvania, careless driving is committed when a person drives a vehicle in careless disregard for the safety of persons or property. See Title 75 Section 3714
Carless and reckless driving are terms that many people believe the law uses interchangeably. This, again, however is simply wrong. You can commit the crime of careless driving by falling asleep at wheel. Careless driving is a summary offense but will not result in a license suspension. Reckless driving, however, requires the prosecution prove intent.
Intent in this context means that you were acting deliberately irresponsible or “recklessly”. If you are convicted of reckless driving in Pennsylvania, you face not only a fine but also a six (6) month license suspension. In New Jersey, careless driving carries with it 2 points and is obviously a much better alternative to reckless driving as in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
A speeding ticket in New Jersey can carry with it anywhere from 2 points (1-14 miles over the speed limit) to up to 5 points (30 miles or more over the speed limit) but a person driving at a high rate of speed is often charged with following too closely under 39:4-89 which carries 5 points. A person is guilty of following too closely when he or she is closer than “reasonable and prudent”. Points are very serious in New Jersey just like Pennsylvania and a person who acquires 12 or more points will have his or her license suspended in the Garden State.
Drag Racing Charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
When people think of drag racing they normally think of movies like Fast & Furious or perhaps Days of Thunder (I’m dating myself). Most people assume that the crime of drag racing is limited only to the actual drivers but this is simply wrong. While Pennsylvania defines a “drag race” at the operation of two or more vehicles, side by side, competing at an accelerated speed within intent to outdistance each other the actual crime covers much broader conduct.
In Pennsylvania it is not only a crime actually to drive in a drag race but also a crime to participate in one. Participation is again defined broadly and even watching a drag race is considered participation in it. If a person is convicted of drag racing they face a sixth (6) month license suspension regardless of their age under Section 3367 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. Drag racing is a summary offense like underage drinking in Pennsylvania and a person also faces fines and there is even the possibility of jail.
In New Jersey Racing on a highway (aka drag racing) is one of the most serious traffic violations in the Garden state. A first offender who is convicted of violating NJSA 39:5C-1 will be fined between $25 and $100. A repeat offender faces a fine of between $100 and $200, up to 90 days’ imprisonment, or both. A judge also has the authority to suspend a driver’s license.
Points (Drivers’ License Points) & License Suspension
Points are very serious in New Jersey just like Pennsylvania and a person who acquires 12 or more points in New Jersey will have his or her license suspended in the Garden State. Points are only deducted in the following ways:
- defensive driving program – 2 points – may be used to subtract points once every 5 years;
- driver improvement program – 3 points – may be used to subtract points once every 2 years;
- probationary driver program – 3 points; or
- one year with no violations – 3 points.
Even if you don’t have 12 points on your New Jersey driver’s license, a person who receives 6 or more points within three years will be assessed a surcharge. Surcharges are in addition to any courts or fines or penalties and are billed yearly for 3 years. If you accumulate 6 or more points within 3 years you will receive a $150.00 surcharge plus $25.00 for each additional point over 6 points.
In Pennsylvania, obtaining 11 or more points will result in an automatic license suspension. A driver, however, who is under the age of 18 will have their license suspended if he or she accumulates six (6) or more points or is convicted of driving 26 miles per hour or more over the posted speed limit. The first suspension will be for a period of 90 days. Any additional occurrences will result in a suspension of 120 days.
If you or a friend has been charged with a serious traffic offense such as reckless driving, contact our law firm today!
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