On May 17th of this year, a New Jersey school bus accident claimed the
lives of a teacher and a fifth-grader. In today’s post, the school
bus accident lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm will present a summary of the currently-known facts of this tragic accident
and then give a summary of the potential legal issues that may arise in
this and in similar school bus accident cases.
The Bus Accident
On the morning of Thursday, May 17th, three school buses belonging to the
Paramus School District were transporting students, teachers, and adult
chaperones from East Brook Middle School in Paramus, New Jersey, to Waterloo
Village, which is described as a historic site featuring a recreated Lenape
Indian community, on a previously-scheduled field trip.
According to multiple news media sources one of the bus drivers, identified
as 77-year-old Hudy Muldrow Sr, had apparently missed his turn onto a
secondary road in Mount Olive Township. While attempting a U-turn on Interstate
80 by using a paved “turnaround” that is reserved to police
and other emergency responders, the bus was struck by a loaded dump truck.
The front portion of the bus was heavily damaged by the force of the dump
truck’s impact and the bus’s passenger section was torn from
the chassis. Two of the bus’s passengers, fifth-grade teacher Jennifer
Williamson, 51, and 10-year-old fifth-grader Miranda Vargas, died at the
scene and the remainder of its passengers were transported to area hospital
with various injuries.
The initial accident investigation
The initial findings of the accident investigation by the State Police
suggest that the direct cause of the accident was the decision of the
school bus driver to make an illegal U-turn on Interstate 80, one of the
most heavily-used highways in New Jersey.
According to a spokesperson for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission,
at the time of the accident Muldrow had no “active points”
on his license, possessed a valid commercial vehicle driver's license
with a school bus endorsement, a current medical card, and had full New
Jersey driving privileges. The spokesperson also stated that, according
to Commission records, Muldrow has had his license suspended 14 times
since he obtained a New Jersey driver’s license in 1975. Muldrow
has eight speeding tickets on his record, as well as one careless driving
ticket and a summons issued in 2003 for unsafe operation of a motor vehicle.
However, none of the tickets and/or citations were apparently issued while
he was operating a school bus or any other “for hire” motor
vehicle. Six of his license suspensions were due to unpaid parking tickets,
including Muldrow’s most recent, which was lifted on Jan. 3, 2018.
The state also once suspended his commercial driver’s license for
“administrative reasons” having nothing to do with his driving
record. There is no record of his ever being charged with DUI/DWI while
he was operating his personal or a commercial vehicle.
The Morris County Prosecutor's Office has charged Muldrow with two
counts of vehicular homicide. Muldrow voluntarily surrendered himself
to the New Jersey State Police on Thursday and was scheduled to appear
in court on Friday.
About the Case
The news media has made much of Muldrow’s driving record, but very
few have included any mention that those violations were accrued over
a period of 43 years, from the year his New Jersey license was first issued
(1975) until the accident on May 17th. While this record will almost certainly
be introduced as evidence in any civil lawsuit alleging wrongful deaths
and personal injuries, defendants’ counsel will be able to present
the fact that the violations occurred, on average, every 3 1/2 to 4 years.
Like every other state, following an accident New Jersey law allows the
recovery of two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory
damages are those to which a definite “dollar value” can be
assigned. Such damages usually include medical expenses, loss of wages
while unable to work, repair or replacement of damaged property, and funeral
expenses if the accident died as a result of their injuries. New Jersey
law does not limit the amount of compensatory damages that may be paid
following a successful lawsuit. This is not the case with punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded to “punish” defendants whose negligence
is unusually malicious or wanton. Unlike some states where there are no
limits (“caps”) on punitive damages, New Jersey “caps”
such damages at either $350,000 or five times the amount of the compensatory
damages awarded in the same case, whichever is greater.
Under New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act, popularly known as “Title
59,” people who are injured by the negligence of a public entity,
or by the negligence of an employee of a public entity, can bring a claim
against that entity. To seek a civil action against a public entity, the
claim has to be made under the Tort Claims Act. Under this act, a notice
of an injury claim must first be filed with the government agency whose
negligence is alleged to have caused the injury. Once that notice is filed,
it is followed by a mandatory six-month waiting period before a lawsuit
can be filed. Once the civil lawsuit is filed, it progresses through the
civil courts in the same manner as any other lawsuit.
Contacting a school bus accident lawyer
School bus accident lawsuits are usually more complicated than other traffic
accidents due to questions regarding the potential liability of government
agencies for the negligence of its employees. Such questions, and other
potential legal issues will require the services of an experienced school
bus accident lawyer. One such lawyer is the school bus accident lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm, a nationwide law firm.
contact the school bus accident lawyer at our firm, your initial consultation and case review is always free
of any charges and does not require you to hire our firm to represent
you in your school bus accident lawsuit. Should you decide that we should
represent you, we are willing to assume full responsibility for preparing
your school bus accident case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon
percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.