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Should Families of BU Students Killed in NZ Crash Sue Driver?

On Saturday, three Boston University exchange students were killed in New Zealand when their bus flipped over. New Zealand police have charged the driver of the van with careless driving causing death, and careless driving causing injury, the Boston Herald reports.

While criminal charges have been brought, could the families of the deceased students bring civil actions against the driver as well?

According to authorities, the van carried eight students on their way to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. At one point, the van drifted off the road and flipped, killing the three BU students. Five other students, including the driver, were injured in the crash.

According to Road Policing Manager Inspector Kevin Taylor, New Zealand police have ruled out any use of drugs or alcohol but have "determined there is sufficient evidence to lay charges against the driver." Authorities have stated that the driver is a 20-year-old U.S. citizen, but haven't released any other details regarding the driver's identity.

So why should the families of the victims bring civil actions when criminal charges are already pending? While both criminal charges and civil suits can stem from the same incident, each has its own function.

A criminal case is brought by the government against a person who is thought to have committed a crime, but a civil suit is brought by an individual against someone who has failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the individual. In addition, a person who is found guilty of a crime will receive a sentence, which may include imprisonment or fines, while a defendant who loses in a civil case may be ordered to fulfill a duty to the plaintiff or pay compensation to the plaintiff for his injuries.

The families of the crash victims may wish to bring a wrongful death suit against the driver in order to be compensated for their loss. Such suits are often brought when a person is killed due to the negligent misconduct of another person or entity. Here, the families of the victims must show that the driver owed a duty of care to the decedents, and that by driving in a negligent manner he breached that duty and directly caused the decedents' deaths. They will also have to cope with the legal system in New Zealand, as that is where the crash took place.

The Boston University students killed in the crash were Daniela Lekhno, Austin Brashears, and Roch Jauberty. According to New Zealand police, the driver has been asked to surrender his passport for the time being.

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