In 2005, a cruise ship filled with 47 passengers set sail for a leisurely tour in upstate New York. The cruise however, ended tragically, with the deaths of 20 passengers when the ship capsized. The captain of the ship and the owner of the cruise line were indicted of misdemeanor charges in federal criminal court. CourtTV News has the details on this story. Click here to read the story.
When a party is prosecuted in federal court, a grand jury first determines whether there is sufficient evidence to actually charge the party with a crime. State criminal courts generally vary in that there is no separate grand jury hearing; instead, a preliminary hearing before a judge is held.
So in this case, the captain and owner have only been charged with the commission of crimes – they have not been convicted or acquited of any criminal charge. It may turn out that while there exists sufficient evidence to indict these defendants with misdemeanor charges, there may not be sufficient evidence to actually convict them. Only the jury will be able to determine that.
Also of note is the fact that nine lawsuits have been filed by some of the injured parties (or their survivors) in civil court. If either the captain or the cruise line ower’s actions or inactions caused the ship to capsize, thereby causing injuries to the passengers, then the passengers may recover monetary damages in civil suit, ergo the filing of the lawsuits in this case. The suits are still pending, so liability has not yet been determined.
It is important to know that even if a criminal prosecution has been initiated by the government, a person may be entitled to monetary compensation for the damages caused by a negligent party.