A week after one of the most serious bus crashes in the state’s history, investigators are no closer to pinpointing a cause for the incident than they were at he moment a tour bus rear-ended a tractor trailer, killing thirteen people and injuring dozens more. At this point, observers speculate that both the driver and a California utility company may have been responsible.
Family members recently filed a lawsuit blaming the driver, Teodulo Elias Vides, who was killed in the crash. Lawyers say that Mr. Vides was asleep at the wheel, and moments before the crash, another car had to swerve to avoid the out-of-control bus. Indeed, when the bus rear-ended the large truck, the bus was still travelling at freeway speeds, according to the CHP, while the tractor-trailer was inching forward at about 5mph. According to other witnesses, SoCal Edison had stopped traffic in the area for about twenty minutes to perform utility work. There were no lights or signs alerting motorists that traffic had been stopped and/or redirected, and such failure to warn may have been a violation of the company’s contract. Meanwhile, after a preliminary investigation, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board announced that four of the eight tires on the USA Holiday bus were dangerously worn, and the vehicle was unfit for travel.
The bus was on an overnight shuttle route from the Red Earth Casino, which is southeast of Palm Springs, to Los Angeles.
Negligent Driver Liability
For the tortfeasor (negligent driver) to be legally responsible for damages, the tortfeasor must violate a legal duty and that violation must cause the damages. In California, bus drivers, Uber drivers, truck drivers, and other commercial operators are common carriers, so they have a much higher duty of care than non-commercial drivers. For example, if a tire starts to get bald on a passenger car, the owner must replace the tire at the earliest possible opportunity. But if a tire gets bald on a commercial vehicle, that vehicle should be placed out of service until the issue is addressed. So, if the tires were unsafe on the USA Holiday bus, Mr. Vides, who owned and operated the bus, arguably had a responsibility to replace the tires before he hauled passengers.
Mr. Vides may have also been at fault as the driver. Fatigued driving is a serious issue among commercial operators, especially if the operators drive mostly at night. The USA Holiday bus left the casino at about 4 am after having arrived there a few hours earlier, so Mr. Vides was definitely at risk for fatigued driving. Studies prove that driving after eighteen hours without sleep is like driving with a .08 BAC, which is above the legal limit in California.
Although Mr. Vides may have breached his duty as both an owner and operator, cause appears to be an issue. People who fall asleep at the wheel normally completely lose control of their vehicles instead of continuing forward in straight lines. Moreover, since there was no evidence of braking, the worn tires may not have had much of an effect on the crash. The possible lack of direct causation indicates that there may have been another cause as well.
Third Party Liability
Details are still sketchy at this time, but the state had only recently approved SoCal Edison’s work order and construction had only been in progress for a few hours prior to the crash. Normally, if traffic will be interrupted, the construction company must post signs and warning lights to alert drivers. These warnings are especially critical at night, when visibility is poor and traffic is light. If traffic is interrupted for only a few minutes, no signs are necessary, but a patrol car usually needs to activate its overhead lights to warn approaching drivers of the hazard.
It appears that SoCal Edison did neither of these things, even though traffic had been at a near-standstill in the area for almost a half hour. The failure to warn could be negligent performance of a contract. This cause of action normally only applies to the contracting parties, but innocent third parties can be damaged as well.
If there is more than one responsible party (e.g. if Mr. Vides breached the common carrier duty, SoCal Edison breached its contractual duty to warn motorists, and both these breaches caused the crash), a jury must divide fault on a percentage basis.
California is a modified joint and several liability state, which means that damages are partially divided between the responsible defendants. Assume that the jury determined economic damages, such as lost wages, to be $100,000, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, to be $100,000. If the jury also divided fault 50-50 between the driver and utility company, each defendant must pay $150,000 (100 percent of the economic damages and 50 percent of the noneconomic damages). The theory is that a tortfeasor should not escape liability for economic damages because there just so happened to be another contributing cause.
Commercial vehicle collision cases normally involve complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in San Diego, contact Injury Trial Lawyers, APC. An attorney can arrange ongoing medical care for victims, even if they have no money and no insurance.