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Are Medium-Sized Buses Deathtraps?

Three years ago, four families suffered one a parent’s worst nightmare – the death of their child. In September 2014, members of the North Central Texas College softball team were returning home from a doubleheader in Oklahoma, traveling along Interstate-35, when the coach-style bus they were in was slammed into by a tractor-trailer heading in the opposite direction.

Four girls were killed in the crash, all between the ages of 18 to 20 years of age. The truck driver told police he was distracted by something right before the crash and, nine months later, he was charged with four counts of manslaughter. He committed suicide in January of this year, two months before his trial was set to begin.

The number of lives affected in this crash is profoundly tragic, but the parents of the victims say this horrific accident should not have ended in the loss of life the way it did and the bus their daughters were in was a deathtrap. The parents have filed a lawsuit against the bus maker, accusing manufacturer of using shoddy materials and not performing crash tests. These buses are basically made out of foam and wood.

And even more shocking, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is aware of this. According to the NTSB, unlike the requirements for large buses, there are “no requirements when it comes to the occupant compartment structural integrity or crashworthiness” of medium-sized buses. The only federal requirements are for steering, braking, tires, lighting, exits, and seats.

Despite these known dangers, and the multiple urgings and recommendations of the NTSB to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement safety regulations for medium-sized buses, none exist. Records show that as early as 2010, the NTSB chairman pointed out the need for regulations after a bus crash in Arizona killed seven people.

In 2104, after this crash, the NTSB requested the NHTSA implement regulations for side impact protection and other standards for medium-sized buses, but that request was ignored. It was ignored again just this past March when 13 more people were killed in another Texas crash.

Carolinas Medium-Bus Crashes

There have been numerous incidents of medium-bus crashes in the Carolinas, including one crash in South Carolina that killed two young teens and resulted in a 2015 class action settlement between the bus manufacturer and the church that owned the vehicle that was involved in the crash. According to statistics from the NTSB, of the more than 10,000 of these vehicles that are produced each year, approximately 20 percent are sold to churches and schools.

In 2009, six months before the Arizona crash, members of the youth group from the church that had purchased the bus were traveling to a youth ministry program in Georgia. While traveling through Mississippi, there was a catastrophic separation of tread on one of the tires that caused the driver to lose control and the bus to roll over twice. The huge panoramic windows of the bus disintegrated as it was flipping over, throwing three of the victims from the vehicle. A 14-year-old boy died while being airlifted to a hospital, and a 12-year-old girl died three weeks later from severe head trauma. Twenty-three other passengers were also injured, some of them severely. An investigation into the crash revealed that there was a major defect in the design of the bus which caused the crash and resulted in the severity of injuries.

Wrongful Death Claims

Our hearts go out to the families in these tragic cases and commend the families of the four victims for their efforts in educating the public over the dangers of these vehicles. In many crashes, such as this one, although the driver may be at fault for causing the accident, there are often other circumstances in the crash that point to another’s party liability. In this case, the families did file wrongful death claims against the company the truck driver worked for, but a jury may also find that the dangerous design of these buses also contributed to the deaths of these four young women.

Our North Carolina wrongful death attorneys have successfully represented many victims’ families where there was more than one party who was deemed legally responsible for financial damages.

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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