On February 3, 2013, a tour bus travelling from Tijuana, Mexico to the San Bernadino Mountains careened out of control down state Route 38 near Yucaipa, California. The bus driver, unable to brake, yelled for passengers to call 911. Shortly thereafter, the bus hit a car, rolled over, ran into a pick-up truck and slid nearly one mile before coming to a stop. At least seven people were killed, dozens more were injured.
Now, families are mourning the loss of their loved ones, injured passengers are learning what their lives will be like once they are out of the hospital, and investigators are scouring the scene of the bus accident for evidence of its cause. All are asking, "Why did this accident happen?" "Who is responsible?"
According to the bus driver, the brakes failed on him. If that is true, then the bus company could be liable for failure to properly maintain the bus. It wouldn't be the first time that this particular bus company has had brake issues. Scapadas Magicas has been cited 59 times for violations in just two years, including citations for faulty brakes.
The bus involved in the accident was also cited multiple times in the last year for:
- Faulty axles
- Faulty brakes
- Loose wheel fasteners
- Damaged windshield
While Scapadas Magicas is on a federal watch list because of its large number of violations, many wonder how a company - and a bus - with multiple violations can remain in operation. The answer could surprise many: Violations are common. In fact, 21 percent of buses fail random safety checks in some way. Scapadas Magicas has complied with federal regulations and has only been fined once in recent years.
Federal Bus Safety Regulations
What, then, are the regulations? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets the minimum safety standards for bus companies and drivers. These standards include:
- Drivers must have valid Commercial Driver's Licenses with passenger endorsements.
- Drivers must have valid medical certificates.
- Companies must have a DOT compliant drug/alcohol testing program.
- Drivers may not drive more than 10 hours after eight consecutive off-duty hours.
- Buses must undergo periodic safety inspections and are subject to random roadside inspections.
- Carriers must properly inspect and maintain buses and repair all problems upon discovery.
- Bus companies must purchase $5 million in public liability insurance if they carry more than 15 passengers.
Failure to follow the standards can lead to fines. More importantly, it can lead to serious accidents. There have been many similar catastrophic bus crashes in recent years that have put the FMCSA regulations into question — should they be stricter?
Take, for example, the 2008 Royal American bus accident on Interstate 40 in California. One person was killed and 21 were injured. The Los Angeles law firm of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, represented eight of the bus accident victims and successfully negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement.
Since then, fatal tour bus accidents in New York (15 were killed in a March 2011 accident), Oregon (nine people were killed in a December 2012 accident) and other states have also led to questions about bus safety.
Members of Congress responded to the bus accidents by introducing bills such as The Motor Coach Enhanced Safety Act, which, if passed, would have required seatbelts, shatterproof windows, stronger roofs to prevent crippling in rollovers, electronic data recorders and an increase in federal inspections.
If You Are Injured in a Tour Bus Accident
Unfortunately, it can take a long time for bills to move through Congress and they are often overshadowed by other initiatives. Therefore, it can fall upon the victims of tour bus accidents and their families to hold bus companies and drivers accountable for their actions. They can do so by bringing personal injury lawsuits against the negligent parties.
In the Tijuana / Big Bear bus accident, the "negligent parties" may include the bus driver (if his use of the brakes or other actions contributed to the accident), Scapadas Magicas, and the manufacturer of the defective brakes (if the brakes were defective and not just poorly maintained).
Bringing a personal injury lawsuit for a bus accident can be a frightening prospect, especially for individuals who face significant injuries or the loss of a loved one. A potentially contentious insurance battle is the last thing that someone going through such a terrible experience wants to face. If you find yourself in this situation, an experienced bus accident attorney can take the stress of negotiations and litigation off your shoulders while you focus on the healing process.