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Obvious negligence, no criminal charges in New Jersey bus crash

Criminal and civil cases may overlap in time and evidence, but the outcome of the same case in each court may turn out very differently. Criminal charges are not necessary for a civil case to proceed. The reverse -- criminal charges without a civil case -- is also possible.

A New Jersey criminal investigation into a fatal truck wreck last year was closed recently with no charges brought against the drivers involved. Prosecutors in Burlington County determined the commercial vehicle drivers made mistakes, but the offenses were citable and not criminal.

The February 2012 crash between a dump truck and a school bus injured 17 elementary school students and killed an 11-year-old Chesterfield girl. The truck struck the rear of the bus on the driver's side, sending the school vehicle into a utility pole.

The accident involved so many young victims that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board conducted an independent investigation. The NTSB and local authorities found driver negligence but not a "level of recklessness" that warranted criminal prosecution.

Both vehicle operators, the 66-year-old Beverly bus driver and the 38-year-old New Egypt dump truck driver, were given summonses. The school bus operator was cited for failing to stop or give way to the truck. The dump truck operator and the Wrightstown company that owned the truck were cited for vehicle violations - bad brakes, overweight load and poor load security.

The lack of criminal charges would not prevent the children's families from pursuing personal injury or wrongful death claims. Prosecutors indicated that, while the "recklessness" standard was not met to bring criminal charges, proof of negligence was likely enough to satisfy future liability claims.

A defendant in a civil action is negligent when he or she causes an accident and injury, while failing to regard others' safety. Deliberate or criminal intent are unnecessary for a jury to award damages to a harmed plaintiff.


Source: 
centraljersey.com, "CHESTERFIELD: No criminal charges to be filed in fatal bus crash" No author given, Dec. 06, 2013

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