On September 19, 2016, Middlesex prosecutors charged Bradford Casler, 55 , with two counts of motor vehicle homicide and one count of operating a motor vehicle so as to endanger following the fatal Sweet Tomatoes Crash in Newton, Massachusetts. Mr. Casler plead not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.
Mr. Casler was the driver of a vehicle that crashed into the popular pizza restaurant Sweet Tomatoes. With virtually no warning, patrons of the restaurant were unable to jump out of the way in time. As a result, two people, Eleanor Miele, 57, of Watertown, and 32 year-old Gregory D. Morin on Newton were killed. In addition, seven other patrons were also injured.
The Middlesex County prosecutor, Chris Tarrant, stated that witnesses reported that Mr. Casler was speeding on Chestnut Street and failed to brake as he crossed the intersection of Washington. Mr. Casler was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had the disease for 27 years, but the State has stated that the do not believe his medical condition affected his ability to drive safely.
Initially, Mr. Casler had told first responders that the brake pedal was stuck and was not working. However, the prosecutors said in a statement that the investigation indicated that his vehicle was fully functional, including the brake system.
While there are criminal charges pending against Mr. Casler, Mr. Casler can still be held civilly liable for breaching his duty of care to the public by driving too fast and failing to brake. In this case, Mr. Casler also broke several Massachusetts motorist safety statutes, including GL.c. 90 § 17, which states in relevant part: “no person operating a motor vehicle on any way shall run it at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper…,” and G.L.c. 90 § 14, which states in relevant part that “a person operating a motor vehicle on any way or curve or a corner in said way where is view is obstructed shall slow down…” If the jury in his criminal trial determines that the defendant violated a safety statute, it would be considered to be evidence of negligence in a civil case. However, the violations alone would not be sufficient to prove that Mr. Casler was liable.
One issue that could arise under these circumstances is attaining damages. In many cases where there is a criminal prosecution, the defendant is judgment proof, or without adequate funds to pay damages. While Massachusetts’ law requires that all motor vehicles are insured with bodily injury coverage of at least $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, minimum coverage alone would not be adequate to cover the damages caused by accidents of this magnitude. Any jury award that goes beyond insurance coverage would have to be provided by the defendant. If the defendant does not have the funds to cover it and also is in jail due to criminal conviction, the plaintiff is unlikely to recover the full damages awarded.