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Driver beware.  A lot of motorists in Minnesota assume that they are only responsible for actions they directly cause.  However, the law can also bind you to acts done by others if it is “reasonably foreseeable” that your negligent actions placed another in harm’s way.

Dudley and Smith, P.A. criminal defense attorney John C Lillie, III had a case where three separate accidents occurred, the end result being the death of one individual yet only Mr. Lillie’s client was charged with a crime.  Two motorists were driving in adjacent lanes when one vehicle struck another causing it to strike the median and flip upside down.  The driver that caused the accident pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and ran out into traffic to assist the driver in the upside down vehicle.  He assisted the driver in getting out of her overturned vehicle and then they were standing in front of the vehicle waiting for traffic to clear so that they could cross over to the shoulder of the highway.

Mr. Lillie’s client had consumed some alcohol and was traveling slightly in excess of the posted speed limit.  He could not see the vehicle as it was upside down with no lights on shortly after midnight.  Nor did he or would anyone expect a vehicle to be upside down in the interior lane of the highway.  At the last second Mr. Lillie’s client saw the vehicle and swerved sharply to the shoulder.  He was not able to avoid striking the vehicle which in turn struck the people standing outside the vehicle which sent them into the lanes of traffic.  Approximately 20 seconds later another motorist struck a male laying in one of the lanes of traffic and he was killed.

Mr. Lillie’s client was charged with Criminal Vehicular Homicide for operating the vehicle in negligent manner which resulted in the death of another.  Most people would assume that either the driver of the first or third vehicle would be charged as well because their negligence contributed to the death.  In Minnesota that is not the case. Although Mr. Lillie’s client didn’t cause the first accident, his actions placed that individual in the roadway and thus under Minnesota law it was reasonably foreseeable that his act could then place that individual in harm’s way.

Therefore, the third driver that ran over that individual was determined not at fault because of Mr. Lillie’s client’s actions placed that person in the lane of the highway.  The law requires that we all operate our vehicles in a safe manner so that no matter what hazards we encounter on the road we will be able to avoid them. This case unfortunately had tragic consequences for the young man who left his vehicle to help another and lost his life as a result.

Mr. Lillie’s client was charged with a felony and was facing up to 4 years in prison for his role in the accidents.  He had children of his own and was in need of help.  He took responsibility for his actions, showed remorse, and immediately entered in-patient treatment for his issues.  While he was facing 4 years in prison Mr. Lillie and the law firm of Dudley and Smith, P.A. were able to successfully argue to the judge that he should durationally depart from the sentencing guidelines and instead sentence him to local county jail time, along with speaking to others about the dangers of drinking and driving and give hundreds of hours back to the community so that a tragedy like this would not happen again.  The lesson to be learned is that we should never drink and drive and always be alert because there are unforeseeable hazards on the road and other’s actions can affect us all.

This post was written by John C. Lillie, III, a criminal defense attorney at Dudley and Smith, P.A. Mr. Lillie has been representing criminal defendants for many years in a wide variety of alleged offenses. If you have been charged with a crime or have questions about criminal law, please contact Mr. Lillie at 651-291-1717. Dudley and Smith,
P.A. has offices in St. Paul, Blaine, Bloomington, Burnsville, Chanhassen, and Woodbury.


The law is continually evolving and Dudley and Smith, P.A.’s blog posts should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship. Postings are for informational purposes and are not solicitations, legal advice, or tax advice. A viewer of Dudley and Smith, P.A.’s blog should not rely upon any information in the blog without seeking legal counsel.