An 18-wheeler driver crashed into a bus carrying the North Central Texas College women’s softball team in 2014, horrifically killing four students and injuring 12 other people.
The truck driver claimed that he was distracted as he reached for a drink in his cooler. However an investigation revealed that Richard Staley, who lived in north Fort Worth, was intoxicated on K2, a synthetic cannabinoid.
The driver was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Last week, just before his criminal trial was set to begin, he committed suicide.
Will Staley’s death affect the civil lawsuits the victims and their families have already filed? And will it impede the new lawsuits just filed against the bus company for manufacturing a defective vehicle and the college for failing to enforce its seat belt rules?
Why depositions are crucial
Staley’s death presumably won’t hinder the civil litigation. The plaintiffs’ attorneys had already taken his deposition and his testimony should be able to be used at trial.
In a civil case like this one, an injured person must prove facts by a preponderance of the evidence, supported by the greater weight of evidence. However many jurors are more familiar with the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for criminal cases. So how a lawyer gathers evidence and presents it to the jury is crucial to achieving a favorable result.
The deposition of the truck driver can make or break the case. The plaintiff must prove that the driver violated the standard of care, i.e. that he broke the rules governing the tractor trailer industry contained in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Skillful questioning can often uncover that the truck driver was not eligible to drive a commercial vehicle, was not licensed, had a poor driving record, was not adequately trained or supervised, was fatigued, failed to inspect or maintain the cab and trailer, falsified driving logs, was using a cell phone, was drinking alcohol or using drugs, the tractor or trailer were defective or malfunctioning, and other serious violations. The softball team crash case is a good example.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is an interrogation of a person who has knowledge about the facts underlying a lawsuit. It takes place in the office of an attorney with a court reporter recording what the witness says. All attorneys have the opportunity to ask questions.
In the softball team case the witnesses would be questioned about how the crash happened. This scaled diagram would help.
The witness’s testimony can show the parties the strengths and weaknesses of the case and help facilitate a favorable settlement or higher verdict. Depositions often lead to the discovery of other witnesses and evidence. The questioning is also designed to find out how credible the witness is and how he will come across to the jury.
Other possible witnesses who should be deposed include passengers in the cab, the company’s safety risk manager, mechanics, and other drivers, police officers, other drivers or eyewitnesses on the road, tow truck drivers, accident reconstruction experts, ambulance drivers and doctors, and the plaintiff’s family members, coworkers, and friends.
Quickly gathering incriminating evidence is an critical part of the tractor-trailer crash litigation process since these cases often involve high stakes and massive damages. In addition, truck companies rarely if ever admit fault.
I wish the families and injured persons in the bus crash case the best of luck. Their attorney, Todd Tracy, is top notch.
I have been representing people injured by negligent 18 wheeler drivers for over 37 years. Please contact my office here if you have been injured in a collision caused by a tractor-trailer or other commercial truck and need help.
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