We are finishing up our discussion of an accident in Rhode Island. The driver of a public transit bus may face criminal charges after his bus struck and killed a young pedestrian. In our last post, we talked about the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s statement that the driver had not taken some training because the agency could not take drivers off the road to put them in the classroom.
We touched on civil liability, especially whether RIPTA itself could be civilly liable. Was the agency negligent in not finding a way to give its drivers potentially life-saving instruction?
Criminal liability has to carry more weight than civil liability, if only because the defendant’s freedom is at stake. The burden of proof in a civil case is “preponderance of the evidence,” or more likely than not. Criminal cases, of course, must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Generally, if a prosecutor believes a crime has been committed, he or she must prove that the defendant “acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently, as the law may require, with respect to each material element of the offense” (according to the Model Penal Code). The prosecutor looks at the definition of the crime and then goes about proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s actions and state of mind match what the statute says.
The question here is whether the driver or RIPTA committed the crime — say, vehicular manslaughter. If RIPTA, the prosecutor must identify a person or people to charge. Would it be a manager who decided not to pay drivers overtime so they could take the training? Could he trace liability all the way up to the governor who appointed the RIPTA board of directors?
Will prosecutors even consider the question of ultimate responsibility for the 9-year-old’s death, or will they look to the default defendant, the driver, to take all the blame?
It is so easy in a tragedy like this for authorities to get caught up in laying blame. It would make more sense if that energy was redirected to getting the drivers the training they need to make sure passengers and the public are safe.
Providence Journal, “Police I.D. 9-year-old girl hit by RIPTA bus, release driver’s name,” Tracee M. Herbaugh, March 27, 2015
Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th edition, May 2014 via WestlawNext