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Bus driver charged in fatal accident with pedestrian

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Under New York Mayor de Blasio, the city has beefed up its efforts to cut down on pedestrian injuries and deaths on the city's streets. In a rare move that may indicate a change in policy, police arrested a Metro bus driver recently after the bus he was operating struck and killed a 78-year-old man who was crossing the street. The fatal accident occurred in Brooklyn near Farragut Road and New York Avenue.

Authorities charged him with failure to yield to a pedestrian and violating the highway law. Interestingly, police did not arrest the driver for something more serious, such as negligent homicide. The existence of criminal charges, however, does not preclude the decedent's family from making a wrongful death claim against the driver and the bus authority.

The standard of proof for a civil claim for monetary damages is substantially less rigorous than the standard required to prove a criminal violation. However, in some instances the commission of a motor vehicle violation can result in a finding of what is called negligence per se. This generally means that if the violation was directly relevant to the infliction of personal injuries on the victim, a conviction is proof of negligence as a matter of law.

In this case, therefore, it appears that if the driver is found guilty or pleads guilty to failing to yield to a pedestrian, there may be a finding of negligence as a matter of law. Such a result makes it easier for the family to prove a wrongful death claim against the defendants. In that sense, the city's increased enforcement of the traffic laws also increases the prospect of monetary compensation to pedestrians.

Police records show 176 pedestrians being killed in traffic accidents in New York in 2013. At least nine of those were due to bus accidents, but none of the bus drivers were arrested for involvement in a fatal accident. It will be important to determine whether the city's intensified measures for protecting pedestrians are reflected in the injury and death statistics in 2014 and beyond.

Source: The New York Times, "New York Bus Driver Arrested After Fatally Striking Pedestrian", Marc Santora, Dec. 24, 2014

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