Nicolet Law Office, S.C.

No charges to be filed in Wisconsin fatal accident between boats

A Wisconsin prosecutor made the difficult decision not to press charges against a boat driver involved in an accident in 2011. The district attorney believes that both boat drivers contributed to the fatal accident. Where this gives ample reason to file charges, the probability of a conviction is believed to be low.

The two boats collided on the Chippewa River. Three people who were part of a wedding party were killed in the crash. The other decedent was the second boat driver. Factors that reportedly caused the accident include speed, drugs and alcohol.

Not only did the district attorney review the evidence from the investigation, but he also consulted with boating experts across the country. Further, in making the determination not to prosecute, additional factors were taken into consideration. Some of these factors include reasonable doubt regarding the boat driver's guilt, insufficient evidence to present in court that would support a conviction and the fact that such a trial could have an adverse effect on the victims.

Further, it was decided that the families might seek adequate remedies in civil court. Under Wisconsin law, the burden of proof in civil court is not as stringent as it is in criminal proceedings. Moreover, the underlying issues are different. In fact, some or all of the families that lost loved ones that day have filed wrongful death claims.

Those claims may be filed against both the surviving boat driver and the deceased boat driver's estate. Further, the family of the deceased boat driver may have a claim against the surviving boat driver as well. If a court determines that both drivers were negligent in a manner that caused or contributed to the fatal accident, the court may apportion an award of damages between them based upon their degree of fault. If the families are successful in proving the boat drivers' actions were negligent -- and that those actions caused or contributed to the deaths of their loved ones in this fatal accident -- the court may award damages.

Source:, Chippewa Co. D.A. will not file charges in fatal boat crash, Amie Winters and Keith Edwards, Jan. 17, 2014

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