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 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.
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.
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.
When you 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.
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