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What Is Vehicular Assault?

In its fundamental sense, the crime of “vehicular assault” is the use of a motor vehicle to cause an injury, intentional or otherwise, to another person. Some states include specific definitions of what constitutes vehicular assault in their criminal codes, while others rely on statutes that encompass the same acts, but assign a different name to the offense.

Actions that can lead to a charge of vehicular assault can include:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Reckless or “aggressive” driving
  • Driving while license has been suspended or revoked
  • Road rage
  • Deliberately using a motor vehicle to injure or attempt to injure another

In some jurisdictions, a charge of vehicular assault requires that the victim be seriously injured, while others will make the charge if a vehicle is used to target a pedestrian or the rider of a non-motorized mode of transportation such as a bicycle.

Regardless of differences in the wording of a statute, in the event that a death occurs during a driving violation, all states can make a charge of vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter.

Vehicular Assault as a Crime

Depending on the jurisdiction, vehicular assault can be either a felony or a serious misdemeanor, as an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer Las Vegas NV trusts can explain. The dividing line separating misdemeanor and felony vehicular assault is usually whether or not there was an actual injury to someone other than the driver. This is analogous to the definition of assault and battery: if you throw a punch at someone and miss, it’s assault. If you throw a punch and hit someone (your intended target or a bystander), it is considered assault and battery.

The penalties that may be imposed upon conviction on a charge of vehicular assault are as varied as the number of jurisdictions. For example, in California vehicular assault is considered to be “assault with a deadly weapon,” and is a felony, while the same actions in Texas could be “deadly misconduct,” and either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the offense.

Vehicular Assault as a Civil Case

The consequences of a criminal charge of vehicular assault do not end with conviction or acquittal. Regardless of how a state defines vehicular assault, any act that could have resulted in a conviction for vehicular assault or some similar statute exposes the driver to the risk of being sued in a civil court for any damages to that are directly related to the act itself.

As in other civil lawsuits, damage claims can include:

  • Actual damages to personal property
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages and/or other earnings
  • “Non-economic” damages, e.g. “pain and suffering”
  • Punitive damages

Civil lawsuits seeking damages that are the result of vehicular assault must be filed within the time limits of the statutes of limitations for the jurisdiction where the damages occurred. In most cases, this will be within two or three years of the date on which the damages occurred, and not the date on which the criminal case was adjudicated.

Vehicular assault is a criminal act in all states and territories, and is punishable as a felony or serious misdemeanor. Victims of vehicular assault have the right to sue the person committing the assault for damages, subject to the provisions of civil law in the jurisdiction where the assault occurred.

Nadia Von MagdenkoThanks to our friends and contributors from Nadia Von Magdenko & Associates for their insight into vehicular assault.

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Steve Harrelson
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