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Criminal and Civil Proceedings Relating to the Humboldt Broncos Catastrophe

Three days after the criminal charges laid on June 6th, 2018 in connection with the crash that killed 16 and injured 13 passengers of the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team and their coaches and trainers, a civil lawsuit has been commenced.

On Monday, July 9, 2018, Russell and Raelene Herold, and the estate of Adam Herold, the youngest team member a few days shy of his 17th birthday when he was killed in the crash filed a statement of claim in the Regina Court of Queen’s Bench.  It names as defendants the driver of the tractor-trailer who is also the accused in the criminal case, his employer, Alberta-based Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., and the as-yet-unidentified bus manufacturer.

Media reports say the plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount in damages, expenses, costs, and interest, and a variety of ‘declaratory orders’ or issues identified by the court, “including that the intersection in question be found “unsafe to drive on as it is currently designed and maintained”; that the sight lines at the intersection are unsafe for northbound traffic; that coach buses carrying sports teams in Saskatchewan be equipped with shoulder harness seatbelts and other safety devices, such as early warning devices; that the roof of the bus was not designed or manufactured to ensure it stayed in place in an accident; and that all semi drivers pass “strict safety tests” before being allowed to haul ‘Super B Trailers’ in Saskatchewan.”

Additionally, the claim is asking the court to determine that two Saskatchewan statutes, the Automobile Accident Insurance Act and the Fatal Accidents Act are “antiquated” and fail to address adequate compensation for victims and their families.  These media reports also note that Statements of Defence have not yet been filed.

Civil lawsuits differ from the prosecution of criminal charges in a number of ways.  As noted in last week’s Road Rules, criminal prosecutions concern offensive behavior that is harmful not just to the individual victims, but to society as a whole.  The offense is a matter of both act and intent, and the Crown must prove both of these elements in court to the high standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.  If the Crown succeeds, the offender may be sentenced to both imprisonment, a monetary fine or other terms.

Sentencing in criminal cases serves two purposes: to punish the offender and to deter others from such offensive behavior.  If possible, another goal of this process is to rehabilitate the offender.

Civil lawsuits are brought by individuals—called ‘the plaintiffs’ usually seeking compensation for the damages the wrongful actions of the defendant or defendants have caused them to suffer.

Wrongfulness’ involves a direct link between the actions of the defendants and the damages suffered by the plaintiffs.  It also involves an inquiry into standards of reasonableness, which, in turn, and somewhat like criminal cases may affect society as a whole.  If the plaintiff proves these elements on a balance of probabilities, the court will order the defendant to pay damages.  This standard of proof differs from the standard of proof in criminal cases but is appropriate to the purpose of this type of court proceeding.

(The news report section above is in part derived from publications of the British Columbia Automobile Association.)