I live in the Council Rock School District where three Council Rock Students were recently killed in a horrible auto accident allegedly caused by a 15 year old unlicensed driver. Each of my three sons, 19, 16, and 11, knew these boys or their family members through sports or school. Of course, this event was a big topic of conversation in my house. When the possibility of a lawsuit by the parents of these boys was casually referenced, my 16 year old had an immediate strong reaction against such a thing, saying, “Why? What good would money do the parents anyway?”
Whenever I have had the privilege to represent a family in this circumstance I usually hear expressed two reasons for a lawsuit:
- to find out what really happened
- to make sure it does not happen to someone else
A civil trial lawyer will do an investigation which will include : whether the driver’s parents knew or should have known about their daughter’s actions that day; or whether she had driven previously, and if so, did her parents take reasonable steps to prevent her from driving; was the vehicle properly serviced; was the driver under the influence of any intoxicants; was there any defect in the vehicle that contributed to the accident; had there been previous accidents at that location and whether there was any defect in the road that may have contributed to the wreck. This investigation may ultimately result in a conclusion that no one did anything wrong.
Even in the rare circumstance where a criminal action may be brought, the focus of police and prosecutors is solely upon the intentional (criminal) actions of the individual, not careless acts of the individual or others. In the tragic death of the 3 Council Rock Students, the criminal focus, in Juvenile Court, will be upon whether a 15 year old girl was driving without a license and whether she was driving recklessly. There will be no investigation by the police of whether there were other actors responsible for the boys’ tragic death.
A civil trial lawyer works to uncover all of the facts that would otherwise remain hidden. Only once all the facts are discovered, can there be an appropriate response to protect society, to prevent those acts from happening again. By ensuring that the appropriate persons are held responsible, we, as a society send the message that we will hold others accountable for their careless acts that harm others. In a civil lawsuit, we have the ability to hold careless actors accountable by obtaining a verdict awarding money intended to make up for the great losses suffered by surviving family members and to send a message to wrongdoers that there is a consequence to careless actions.
In my next blog I will discuss what kinds of harms and losses a jury is allowed to consider in awarding damages for the wrongful death of a child.