The thinnest line is all it takes to separate a tragic accident from a homicide — and what really happened is often a matter that has to be left up to a judge or jury to decide (unless the defendant decides to take a plea).
For example, take the case of the accident that occurred this year at Ohio’s State Fair. Seven people went to the hospital and one person went to the morgue.
While the family of the deceased already knows that they plan on filing a wrongful death lawsuit, whether there’s enough evidence to support a reckless homicide charge against someone remains to be seen.
Right now, all that anyone can agree on is that the ride, called “The Fire Ball” came flying apart in a deadly, mid-air collapse. Preliminary reports indicate that the metal structure of the ride had grown thin and there was visible rust showing. The operator claims there must have been a structural error, while the maker says the ride would have been sound — if it hadn’t been allowed to corrode so badly.
Investigators have to continue taking the ride apart to see if they can determine if it was a design flaw or rust that caused the ride to collapse. The prosecutor says that he has not ruled out criminal charges — depending on whether the ride’s operator or maker showed a total disregard for the risk riders were taking just by climbing on.
That would be no insignificant charge. In Ohio, reckless homicide is a third-degree felony, and you can face up to five years in prison plus fines. Even just negligent homicide could cost you up to six months in prison plus fines. The difference between the two is very slight — someone who knows about a risk that is likely to lead to death and chooses to disregard it is being reckless. Someone who foolishly overlooks that risk when he or she should have been more observant or careful is merely being negligent.
Situations like this show how easy it is to get caught up in a situation that turns deadly — and how easily someone can end up facing criminal charges in addition to a civil suit. An attorney can help you if you are concerned about possible criminal charges following an accident.
Source: codes.ohio.gov, “Chapter 2903: Homicide and Assault,” accessed Aug. 30, 2017