In 2014, a school bus transporting 11 middle school students crashed in Anaheim Hills. It was later discovered that Gerald Rupple, the 28-year-old bus driver, passed out behind the wheel because of a medical condition he never disclosed to the school district. Several children were severely injured in the California bus accident. Earlier this month, Rupple was sentenced to 210 days in jail and 5 months probation for endangering those young children.
Criminal & Civil Liability Following a Los Angeles Bus Accident
Rupple was charged with a crime for failing to disclose a health condition to his employer. Had the school district known that he was prone to seizures and blacking out, they likely would have declined to hire him or put precious lives in his care. This decision put young lives in danger.
Making a decision that puts others’ lives at risk can also result in civil liability. In addition to being arrested and charged with a crime, Rupple could also be named as a defendant in personal injury lawsuits. The childrens’ families could pursue compensation for medical bills, disability, or pain and suffering their children experienced because of the bus crash.
Civil and criminal charges are distinct. The outcome of a criminal case won’t necessarily affect a related civil matter. So, personal injury lawsuits could be successful even if Rupple wasn’t convicted of a crime. The burden of proof in civil cases is lower than that for criminal cases. It’s easier to prove negligence in a personal injury case than it is to prove guilt in a criminal matter.
At the same time, the fact that a defendant in a personal injury case is convicted of a crime can be beneficial to plaintiffs in civil matters Many times, civil cases are stayed – or paused – until related criminal cases are resolved. This gives the defendant the opportunity to focus on the more serious criminal case first. However, a conviction can then be used to support those related injury cases.
Bus Accident Victims Can Seek Compensation From the School District, Too
Rupple was actively engaged in his duties as a bus driver for a Los Angeles County school district when the bus accident occurred. Under California state law, the school district – his employer – can also be liable for the accident. Employers have a legal duty to make sure that they hire qualified employees who can perform job duties safely. Those employees must be trained and supervised. If an employee hurts another person while they’re on the clock, the employer can be on the hook for that accident, too.
Rupple never disclosed that he had a medical condition that could prevent him from being a safe bus driver. However, there were ways for the school district to discover his condition. They could have required him to pass a physical or series of medical tests before hiring him. His condition would have been discovered if they’d required a thorough medical evaluation or a simple review of his medical history.
Several parents chose to sue the school district after the Anaheim Hills bus accident. The case was ultimately settled for $10 million. The choice was likely, in part, due to the fact that the school district had deeper pockets than the bus driver. In other words, the school district would actually be able to pay them if they won their case. There’s no guarantee that the bus driver would have been able to satisfy a judgment, even if they proved he was negligent.