Criminal and civil law are two very different systems: civil law is designed to handle private disputes between organizations or individuals, while criminal law is set up to handle cases involving individuals who are deemed harmful to society. However, there are some cases where the line between criminal and civil law becomes less visible.
One recent example comes from New Brunswick, New Jersey, where police recently cited City Fire Director Robert Rawls for failing to yield at a crosswalk and hitting three children who had to be transported to the hospital. Rawls was driving a city-owned SUV when he collided with two 14-year-old girls and a 6-year-old boy in the crosswalk, causing one of the girls to suffer a broken leg. After investigation, the police announced that Rawls would not face any criminal charges. They found that he was at fault in the accident, but because he did not have criminal intent, his negligent driving could not be considered a crime. Instead, he was just cited for careless driving and failure to yield.
It might be true to say that Rawls’ accident was just a mix of bad timing and the wrong circumstances, but before this incident, Rawls had 18 other driving accidents on his record. That should be enough to give anyone pause when investigating this most recent crash.
Rawls’ driving accidents occurred over the course of 38 years, with one taking place just six weeks before the one described earlier. Eight of the accidents took place in New Brunswick, while the rest were in other municipalities. In fact, Rawls’ license was suspended 18 times between 1984 and 1995, and he had nine no-contest tickets from 1977-2008. Five of his tickets were for speeding, with one being for driving 44 mph in a 25 mph zone. Yet somehow, he has never faced criminal charges based on his reckless driving.
Can a Civil Suit Curb Reckless Driving?
There is no word yet on whether the families of the three injured children are going to file lawsuits against Rawls, but in this type of situation, a civil trial might be the only way to adequately penalize the negligent party and get the justice they deserve.
The primary purpose of a civil suit is to recover monetary compensation for medical bills, lost income, emotional suffering, and other after-effects of an accident caused by a reckless or negligent third party. However, a lawsuit may also be the wake-up call the negligent party needs to change any recurring negative behavior. For example, Rawls’ numerous tickets and citations do not seem to have significantly changed his driving behavior. He received his first citation back in 1977, and so far in 2014, he has already received two citations and injured three children. Since he was not found guilty of a crime, civil court might be the best venue for addressing his actions.
If you or a loved one is injured in a pedestrian or car accident and the negligent driver is not charged with a crime, contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about what you can do. By holding the negligent party responsible and showing that there are serious consequences for their actions, you may be helping to prevent future accidents.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”