A charter bus carrying a high school band was involved in a fatal crash on Interstate 10 near the Florida/Alabama border on March 13. Accident records show that First Class Tours, the charter bus company, has been implicated in four other crashes in the last two years. When a bus operating company has a poor safety record, it could be evidence that it has not met the duty of care it owes to its passengers. Demonstrating that a bus company does not provide proper driver training, perform necessary maintenance, and follow carrier regulations may all be important aspects of a bus accident lawyer’s case.
If you were hurt in an accident involving a bus, call the Alabama bus accident lawyers of Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. at (205) 933-1500 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.
In the aftermath of the incident, Alabama troopers held an impromptu press conference at the side of the road. They stated that in the early hours of the morning, the bus veered into the median and then tumbled into a ravine, killing the driver instantly and causing dozens of injuries. The driver, Harry Caligone, had been a longtime employee of First Class Tours – a luxury coach and tour bus operator based in Houston, Texas.
Robert Berkstresser, who has over 40 years of experience serving as commercial bus expert witness in personal injury cases, later told reporters that driver fatigue is a likely cause of the accident. He stated that “when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) looks into this, they’re going to look at a whole host of things but because it happened around 5:30 a.m., they’re going to look at when the driver went on duty, what he did in the seven days prior and things like that.” Investigators will download data from the bus’s equivalent to the black box used on airplanes. In this case, these electronic monitoring systems log the vehicle’s speed and operating time.
In addition to pinpointing the immediate cause of the accident, investigators will also be interested in the bus company’s operations, and whether they created conditions that would make an accident more likely. As reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), First Class Tours was given 22 violation citations over the course of the 276 inspections the company participated in over the last two years.
The company was cited for violations such as:
Expert witness Robert Berkstresser speculated that First Class Tours’ inspection violations and accident record, which shows two fatal accidents in less than a year, will raise red flags. In May 2017, a First Class Tours bus struck and killed a pedestrian in downtown Houston after the driver failed to yield. According to Houston Police, a grand jury is considering criminal charges against the driver.
Despite its seemingly shaky record, the FMCSA gave First Class Tours its highest safety rating. No one was injured in three of the company’s four crashes since 2016. To put this into context, the company’s safety violations and casualty rate might not be out of the ordinary.
Assuming the driver fell asleep at the wheel, or that the company’s operations created unsafe conditions, a court could potentially find that First Class Tours was negligent. But the case may not even end up in court. It is very likely that the carrier’s insurance company will offer a settlement to the injured parties even before fault is formally established. But if that settlement is insufficient to compensate for the victims’ losses, or does not reflect the company’s share of responsibility, litigation may be necessary.
Before accepting a settlement, you should consult with the bus accident lawyers of Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. to ensure you are getting the fair compensation you deserve. A lawyer may be able to re-negotiate the settlement or file a complaint in court. If you or a family member was injured in a bus accident, our Alabama personal injury lawyers can help. Contact us today at (205) 933-1500 for your free consultation.