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Using criminal convictions as evidence in civil cases

Last week, a woman who formerly worked as a driver for NJ Transit was sentenced for a conviction of vehicular homicide involving the death of a pedestrian. The charge stems from the death of a man who was a passenger on the bus the woman was driving back in 2012. The bus driver apparently struck and killed the man in an intersection after dropping him off and then accelerating as the traffic light was passing from yellow to red.

Sources don't mention--nor is information readily available--whether the crash victim's survivors or estate have filed a civil suit for wrongful death in connection with the incident. Under New Jersey law, wrongful death actions may be brought within two years of a car accident victim's death, so the time may now be passed to file such a suit, though such a case may still be pending. 

One issue that can sometimes come up in car accident cases is how a criminal conviction against the individual who caused the accident could impact later personal injury or wrongful death proceedings. The issue could come up in cases where prosecutors initiate and complete a criminal case shortly after the incident whereas the civil case is brought later on, for whatever reason.

How would a conviction of vehicular homicide impact a wrongful death case? One way is that the conviction could be used in a wrongful death case as evidence that the defendant breached his or her duty to operate a vehicle in a reasonable safe manner and that this was the proximate cause of the victim's death. Pointing to evidence of the conviction would make it easier for a plaintiff in a wrongful death case to prove those elements since the burden of proof is lower in a civil case.

In any wrongful death case, it is important to work with an experienced attorney to ensure that everything is done correctly from the standpoint of evidence and that one's rights are protected.

Source: NorthJeresy.com, "Ex-NJ Transit bus driver in fatal pedestrian accident draws probationary term," Kibret Markos, Dec. 19, 2014.

New Jersey Courts, "Rules of Evidence: Rule 803," Accessed Dec. 22, 2014. 

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