On March 30, a shuttle bus carrying members of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels was hit head-on by a pickup truck on US 83, killing 12 passengers and the bus driver. A 13th passenger later died of their injuries. The pickup driver, by comparison, was hospitalized but recovered. Two months later, on June 30, he was charged with intoxication manslaughter, as well as normal manslaughter. No civil liability has been alleged, and no suit for wrongful death or any other valid cause of action has been brought. Yet in many auto accidents, especially those where a death occurs, wrongful death litigation is often begun concurrently or set to begin directly before the commencement of a criminal trial.
Civil vs. Criminal Law
In a lot of cases, especially in such an extensive and tragic accident as the First Baptist bus crash, a civil action is begun, or at least filed, around the same time as any criminal charges. While criminal charges are fairly self-explanatory, civil claims are a bit more difficult to define. Under Texas law, a civil action is brought to hold a person liable, usually by alleging negligence on their part (as opposed to finding someone guilty of a crime and showing they broke the law). Civil actions do not result in jail time, but they can result in significant fines and other punishments aimed at making the plaintiff “whole” – that is, to redress the wrong done to them as fully as possible. Most civil cases that are decided in the plaintiff’s favor result in monetary damages being paid by the defendant or defendants.
The New Braunfels case would likely be filed as a wrongful death action, meaning that the plaintiff or plaintiffs would try to prove that death resulted due to the negligence of the defendant. Any compensatory damages, if the defendant were held liable, would likely be paid to the survivors of those killed, or to the First Baptist Church. The church lost staff and their bus, and the survivors lost family. While obviously no amount of money can ever bring back lost loved ones, it can pay for funeral expenses, and bridge the sudden gap often left at the passing of a family breadwinner.
Why No Suit?
If one looks at the New Braunfels case, one might wonder why no wrongful death suit was filed by any survivors of those who were killed. There are two reasons why many decline to file, though one is governed by practicality and one by emotion. The first is that if one does their due diligence, they may find that the defendant or defendants in their possible suit are essentially judgment proof. If someone is judgment proof, it means they have neither income nor resources to pay a judgment against them – they are essentially bankrupt. Bringing suit against a defendant known to be judgment proof is seen as a waste of time in most cases because there is no guarantee compensation will be received.
The other reason is not for everyone, but it does happen – that some will simply choose to forego the strain and trouble of a lawsuit, either because they believe it will not change anything or because they would rather focus on forgiveness and move past the situation. Some survivors of those killed in the New Braunfels accident may be of this opinion, as some have spoken of the need to forgive. Most attorneys will recommend filing suit anyway if this is the only stumbling block, as a suit can at least grant some closure in that someone can be held responsible for the death of their loved one.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
The Bettersworth Law Firm stands ready to try and assist you with your auto accident case to the best of our ability, whether as a wrongful death suit or another type of action. Our passionate New Braunfels personal injury attorneys can help you decide the best course for you and your family after your harrowing experience. Contact our offices today to set up an initial consultation.