Woman who drove into several cars in Ponte Vedra Beach found not guilty at civil trial; criminal case up next month

November 28, 2012

A federal jury in Jacksonville found a Georgia woman did not intentionally injure several people when she drove her car into a cyclist, a motor scooter and several cars in Ponte Vedra Beach in 2010. Andrea Zampatti has cleared one hurdle with that verdict in the civil case. Now, she moves onto the criminal courtroom with a trial set for December, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The issue in the civil case was whether or not Zampatti's actions were intentional and her St. Johns County Attorneys argued she was not mentally competent at the time of the car accidents, the newspaper reported. Zampatti, 38, faces 14 felony counts -- two first-degree felonies, five second-degree felonies and seven third-degree felonies. If convicted and given a maximum sentence on all counts, she could receive as many as 170 years in prison.

But the civil verdict is huge for Zampatti. The standards of proof in a civil case are much lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" applied in Florida criminal cases. In fact, it's not uncommon for a person to be found not guilty in a criminal case, then found liable in a separate civil case. The most infamous example of this is O.J. Simpson, the former football star and actor who was found not guilty of killing his former wife and her friend in a trial that captivated the nation in the late 1990s. Shortly thereafter, a jury in a civil wrongful death case found Simpson liable and ordered him to pay $38.5 million in civil penalties to the families and estates of the two people killed in 1994.

Zampatti's case landed in federal court because her insurance company sued her to try to eliminate its liability in the claims by the victims of the crashes. The insurance company said Zampatti intentionally tried to hurt people and, therefore, was no longer covered by her insurance policy, the newspaper reported. Zampatti's St. Augustine Attorneys argued she did not have the mental capacity to make a decision at that time and could not have intentionally chosen to harm people. The jurors agreed, the newspaper reported. Now just as burdens of proof are different in the civil world versus the criminal world, so are the standards for being mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Zampatti's intent isn't necessarily as important in a criminal case as it was to satisfy that clause in her insurance policy. Either way, the civil verdict certainly won't hurt her criminal case in St. Johns County and could improve her chances of negotiating a favorable deal with state, should she choose to take that route.

If you or a loved one needs a Criminal Defense Attorney in St. Johns County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County Felony Attorney is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.