Wrongful Death Suit Filed Over School Bus Accident

The parents of an 11-year-old girl, who was killed in the February 16th crash where a dump truck collided with her school bus, have filed a lawsuit against both drivers and their employers.

A civil suit was filed Wednesday, April 18th in Supreme Court in Mount Holly, New Jersey. The suit seeks unspecified damages from the accident, which claimed the life of their 11-year-old daughter, and was also the result of serious injuries to her triplet sisters.

“This case involves a heartbreaking, preventable tragedy in which an overloaded dump truck traveling at an excessive speed failed to avoid a school bus, loaded with children, and failed to observe oncoming traffic before attempting to cross a high speed intersection,” says the lawsuit.

There were 25 elementary school students on the school bus on their way to school when the collision occurred. 17 of the children were injured overall, although most of the injuries sustained were minor bumps and bruises.

New Jersey is one of only six states in the U.S. that has seatbelt requirements on school buses for passengers. National Transportation Safety Board chief investigator, Peter Kotowski, said, “the safety board has been interested in occupant protection on school buses for several years, and restraint systems are an important part of what we will be looking at here.”  It is not certain whether or not all children were wearing their seat belts at the time of the accident.

In their lawsuit, the parents claim the defendant’s “negligence and recklessness” led to the deceased’s sisters witnessing her death.

The bus driver, John Tieman, 66, of Beverly, was cited for failing to stop or yield in connection with the collision. The truck driver, Michael Caporale, 38, of Plumstead, Ocean County, and the vehicle’s owner, Herman’s Trucking of Wrightstown, were charged with violations stemming from the poor condition of the truck, which was overweight and equipped with inadequate brakes, according to authorities.  The truck’s load was also improperly secured, officials said. Also named as defendants in the complaint are the bus company and the construction companies, of which the construction companies operated a construction site where the dump truck was overloaded with asphalt just prior to the accident.

The complaint argues that the defendants were negligent in their daughter’s death, as well as the injuries and trauma her two sisters sustained. It claims that the truck should not even have been on the road due to its excessive weight and poor conditions of the brakes. In addition, Caporale was speeding and was not paying attention to the dangers on the road, as was reported.

The complaint also cites the prior suspension of Caporale’s driver’s license in 2003 for reckless driving as a “predictor” that he would likely be involved in future accidents. It also states that Herman’s should have assigned him to a non-driving position in light of his driving history.

“Herman’s Trucking knew or should have known the single greatest predictor of whether or not a commercial motor vehicle driver will be involved in a future accident is if they have a prior reckless driving violation…(it) increases the likelihood of the driver being involved in a future crash by 325%,” the lawsuit states.

In addition, the suit claims that Tieman, who had been driving for Garden State Transportation for about three weeks, was not properly trained and that the company ignored complaints from parents who had reported Tieman for accelerating before the children had taken a seat, causing them to fall in the aisle. What kind of school bus driver doesn’t wait for the children to be seated before driving away?

The 11-year-old girl was pronounced dead at the scene. 17 other children were injured, including her sisters, who were hospitalized for an extended period, along with a third passenger.

The lawsuit claims the surviving triplets’ injuries “may involve permanent loss of bodily function, permanent disfigurement or dismemberment.”  It also claims that the parents were initially notified that their daughters were all right before they arrived at the scene.

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