In the case of Slanovec v. Alstede Farms, the girls’ mother, acting as representative of the estate, alleges negligence on the part of:
- The shopping center;
- The local business association;
- The farm;
- The shuttle driver;
- The companies providing security services;
- The companies that provided advertising services.
The driver of the shuttle van previously pleaded guilty after receiving a citation for careless driving in the incident. He was, however, cleared by local prosecutors in New Jersey for criminal wrongdoing. He was ordered to pay a total of $240 for the ticket. His driver’s license was initially suspended for 16 months, but that suspension was later reduced to 100 days, and will begin later this month.
As part of that guilty plea, the girl’s family reserved the right to pursue a civil lawsuit, but agreed they would not use the guilty plea as evidence in the civil case.
He admitted to authorities that he made a mistake. His shuttle was idling in a parking field at the farm when his foot slipped off the brake pedal. He quickly tried to correct this, but instead of hitting the brakes again, he stepped on the accelerator. The toddler, her mother and the mother’s adult friend, were all standing in between the front of that van and the rear of another van. The little girl was killed. Her mother and the other woman suffered serious injuries, though those were ultimately not life-threatening.
At the time, those shuttles were being used to take patrons of the festival to and from the train station to nearby shops and the farm.
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges there were foreseeable safety hazards created by the large crowds that gathered at the site each year. Plaintiff alleges defendants failed in their duty to ensure shuttle vans were properly operated, maintained and supervised. Duty of care owed to these patrons would be high, as they were business invitees.
In court documents, plaintiff describes the area for loading and unloading as “chaotic,” with no real organization for getting on or off the buses. That resulted in a condition that represented a risk of reasonably foreseeable injury. Further, plaintiffs assert the dangerous conditions existed for such a time that defendants had actual and constructive knowledge of them, and failed to take measures to protect against them.
A defense attorney for the driver called the incident “tragic,” and said the driver has been in counseling since the incident.
It’s not clear exactly how much plaintiffs are seeking in damages, but does demand compensation for wrongful death, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress,. Such a claim can be asserted when a plaintiff was a direct witness to an incident that severely injures or kills a loved one.
In cases like this, it is common for some or even all of defendants to negotiate settlement agreements before the claim reaches the trial phase.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Family sues over toddler’s death in accident at Chester Twp. farm, Nov. 30, 2015, By Ben Horowitz, NJ.com
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NHTSA: 5-Star Vehicle Rating Will Soon Require Automatic Emergency Brakes, Nov. 25, 2015, Miami Wrongful Death Attorney Blog