A private charter bus carrying 32 members of an assembly-bound church group inexplicably ended up at Miami International Airport, this past Saturday, where it rammed into an overpass, instantly killing one of its passengers and injuring many others. According to the December 2 Miami Herald, the bus was 11 feet tall, but, as shown in a December 2 Associated Press photo of the accident, the bus crashed only several feet away from two prominent signs that warned all vehicles taller than 8 feet, 6 inches to stop and veer left. An Airport spokesman stated that the bus was traveling at about 20 mph at the time of the accident, and that any bus driver familiar with the Airport would have known that tall vehicles are prohibited in the area.
A tourist who witnessed the incident reported that the damaged bus resembled a peeled-back “can of sardines.” In fact, because the bus’s roof crumbled at its point of impact with the overpass, metal and debris fell on to passengers from above, causing many head and facial injuries. Passengers were also thrown from their seats into the center aisle at the time of impact. Miami resident Serfin Castillo was killed immediately, and a second passenger, Fancisco Urana, also of Miami, died after reaching Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center. Three other passengers were admitted to hospital in critical condition, with another eight hospitalized in stable condition. The bus was owned and operated by Miami Bus Service Corporation, a small company that, according to the Miami Herald, often provides transportation for University of Florida students.
Getting to the Bottom of the Tragedy
Pending investigation, it is too soon to say what factors may have contributed to this tragic collision, but driver error will most assuredly be among the causes explored. Bus drivers may err in many different ways. They may fail to understand posted warning signs, or may disregard these, as a result of fatigue, poor reflexes or cognition, intoxication, or distraction. A bus driver may take passengers into harm’s way by speeding or by failing to exercise proper technique in steering and handling. If a bus company hires a driver likely to be impaired in ways that interfere with proper heeding of warnings, or with proper vehicle handling, then that company will share responsibility for injuries that follow.
Failure of a bus company owner to provide drivers with appropriate drug and alcohol education and testing, or to require necessary driver skills, may contribute significantly to accident risk. In addition, bus company failures to maintain brakes and other systems on vehicle fleets have resulted in liability for the neglectful fleet owners, as have company failures to correct defects in steps and seats that have collapsed on to passengers during unexpected impacts.
Bus Accident Liability
When it comes to shouldering responsibility for injuries to bus passengers, even municipalities and agencies that regulate traffic flow are not excluded. There have been instances in which these entities have been found liable for injuries resulting from defective road design (including design defects that provide too little time for drivers to act on posted warnings), and resulting from inadequate road signage or dangerous road obstructions.
Bus companies owe an unusually high-level duty of care to their passengers. Because they serve the general public and charge a fee for transporting their passengers, they are classified as ‘common carriers.’ Whereas drivers of non-commercial vehicles owe their passengers, drivers and passengers of other vehicles, and pedestrians a duty of reasonable care, common carriers are held to the ‘duty of utmost care’ in relation to their passengers.
Damages in vehicular accident cases may include compensation for past and future medical, surgical, and physical therapy expenses; compensation for lost wages and lost future earning capacity; and compensation for pain and suffering, often taking the form of lost enjoyment of life or emotional harm arising from permanent scarring or other disfigurement.
The very first thing to do, if you have experienced injury on a bus, is to seek out medical help, and then to cooperate fully with all medical treatment immediately offered. It is then extremely important to secure legal representation by attorneys who are appropriately experienced, and, if possible, who are at the leading edge of practice in this challenging field. The attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, PA bring a wealth of knowledge and advanced technology to bear in the vehicular accident cases that they handle, and their many successes in this realm, throughout the State of Florida, are a testament to their accomplishment and expertise. To learn how we can help, contact Gerson & Schwartz, PA today.