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Criminal Liability in Motor Vehicle Crashes

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In personal injury, the concept of "negligence" includes an element of carelessness in one's behavior toward others. Merriam-Webster defines negligence as a "failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances." It is not necessarily a criminal act in itself to be negligent, although many wrongful actions - drunk driving, for example - may not only be negligent, but also involve criminal liability.

Such is the case of a man who yesterday was charged with four counts of vehicular manslaughter (as well as five misdemeanor vehicle code violations) stemming from a bus crash this time last year. The crash occurred near Atwater, Calif., according to the Associated Press report, when the bus driver ran directly into a post on the highway.

The post "sliced through" the bus, according to the AP report, and caused the deaths of four people and seriously injured several others, necessitating the amputation of limbs in some cases.

The driver wasn't impaired - unless you count lack of sleep as impairment.

The prosecutor cited sleepy or fatigued driving as a "major factor" in the crash.

Such a thing normally doesn't give rise to criminal liability, at least in your average motor vehicle crash case, where it can be difficult to determine whether a driver was too sleepy to be behind the wheel.

But commercial driver's license holders are required to keep accurate logbook records showing compliance to hours-of-service rules designed to prevent sleepy driving and keep passengers and other motorists on the roads safe.

According to the prosecutor, this bus driver falsified his logbook and drove for a period of time longer than allowed under the rules. As well, the driver had been "using his cell phone frequently" while driving - though evidently he was not texting at the time of the crash.

Read more:

Driver charged in California bus wreck that killed 4 people

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