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Driver not guilty of manslaughter but may face wrongful death suit

Negligent drivers may face criminal charges and wrongful death suits if they cause an accident that kills another. A Maryland SUV driver, that ran a red light and killed renowned jazzman Joe Byrd last spring, was acquitted of criminal negligent manslaughter Thursday. However, immediate family members of the decedent may bring a wrongful death suit against the SUV driver for financial injury surrounding the loss of their loved one. The driver was a 28-year-old from North Beach who was driving a 2003 GMC Yukon when he ran the light and hit Byrd's 2003 Volvo station wagon as it made a left turn.

In this suit, prosecutors brought the manslaughter charges under a new law. This law was created to punish those using a phone, or other distraction while driving. The new Maryland criminal negligence manslaughter by vehicle or vessel passed in 2011 by the legislature. The purpose of the law was to find a middle ground between vehicular manslaughter, which most often is associated with drunk driving and reckless driving and is punished by a lot of jail time, and negligent driving which only carries a fine.

Wrongful death suits, on the other hand, may also include actions for personal injury, conscious pain and suffering or expenses incurred as a result of the death of their loved one. In a wrongful death suit, family member bringing suit must prove that the death was cause by the negligence of another.

The famous jazzman played all over the world in his brother Charlie Byrd's trio for 25 years. Joe Byrd lived in Annapolis, where he and his brother established a vibrant jazz scene.

Source: Capitol Gazette, "Driver not guilty of manslaughter in Joe Byrd's death," E.B. Fergurson, Jan. 9, 2013.

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