Complex legal issues a legacy of Taconic crash

Professor Jim Cohen in Newsday, August 05, 2009

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The crash that killed eight people on the Taconic State Parkway has raised numerous legal issues in the wake of autopsy results showing driver Diane Schuler was drunk and high on marijuana.

In such a crash, could family members of the driver face criminal charges?

It's unlikely, legal experts said. If anyone were with the driver while she was drinking and watched her get in the minivan drunk, then he might face charges of endangering the welfare of a child, said Jim Cohen, a criminal law professor at Fordham Law School. But police have not indicated that was the case in the Schuler crash. .

Who could face civil liability

in such a crash?

The driver's insurance policy would be the most likely payer, said civil lawyer Thomas Foley of Garden City. But if the driver were operating someone else's car - in this case, Schuler drove her brother's minivan - the vehicle owner's insurance provider could also be on the hook, depending on the policies, Foley said. Victims in the crash, or their survivors, could also go after any private assets that a driver in such a case did not share with her husband. In this case, the couple's joint assets automatically became Danny Schuler's when she died, and they are not likely to be taken in a judgment against her estate, Foley said.

Could a driver's husband or brother be sued in a similar case?

It's possible, if a driver's brother gave her permission to use his minivan, experts said. Lawyers and experts disagree as to whether the crash victims could successfully sue a driver's husband if police find that he knew, or should have known, that his wife presented a danger to the children in her care or to others on the road.