A woman accused of a hit and run accident that killed a man on a Minneapolis highway is facing both criminal prosecution for vehicular homicide and a civil lawsuit for wrongful death. On the night of August 23, 2011, a car struck and killed 38 year-old Anounsone Phanthavong as he was putting gas in his stalled vehicle on the side of the Interstate 94 westbound entrance ramp. The car then fled the scene. Phanthavong was a popular chef at Minneapolis’ Twin Cities Thai restaurant. Prosecutors have charged 45 year-old Amy Senser in Phanthavong’s death based in large part on eyewitness accounts placing a vehicle like hers, a 2009 Mercedes ML350 SUV, at the scene of the accident.
The criminal case has generated a flurry of media reports about the evidence and motions presented so far, as well as questions and doubts as to whether Senser knew she had hit someone, whether she should be liable either criminally or civilly, and whether she was even the driver who struck Phanthavong. The case is set for trial to begin April 23, but it appears that the court will have many pretrial motions to consider first.
Witnesses have described a vehicle just like Senser’s, but at least one witness described a driver who does not resemble Senser. The witness described a blond woman around 30 years of age, while Senser is a 45 year-old brunette. Police issued an alert that they were looking for a Mercedes SUV. The day after the accident, Senser’s attorney directed police to her house, where they found the vehicle with damage to the front right side and a substance that looked like blood on the hood. Senser eventually admitted that she was driving the vehicle, but says she thought she had hit a piece of construction equipment.
To convict Senser of criminal vehiclular homicide, prosecutors must prove that she knew she had hit a person. Without that actual knowledge, her conduct does not fit the legal definition of “criminal” in this situation.
Phanthavong’s family has also filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against Senser. The case recently resumed after a stay. All discussions related to the case are confidential, but it appears that the civil case will proceed alongside the criminal one. Prosecutors allege that Senser’s cell phone records suggest that she was using her phone at the time of the accident. If true, this could benefit the family’s lawsuit by supporting a negligence claim.
Wrongful death claims, unlike a criminal prosecution, seek monetary damages from someone alleged to be responsible for another person’s death. Unlike in a criminal case, it only requires proof of negligence by a preponderance of evidence, the lowest burden of proof. Criminal prosecutions require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Drivers generally have a duty to drive in a safe manner. The plaintiffs must prove in this case that she breached that duty, possibly by driving while distracted by the phone, and that this caused Phanthavong’s death.
Kansas City auto accident attorney Doug Horn advocates safe driving and represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries in auto accidents. For a free and confidential consultation, contact the firm today online or at (816) 795-7500.