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Texas Experiences Another Fatal Bus Accident

Unsafe operators often slip past regulators

On a Texas highway wet with rain, a bus careened out of control after striking a curb, crashing, then rolling over and leaving 8 passengers dead and 44 with various injuries. A ninth victim died later. The bus was a charter, taking residents of the Rio Grande Valley to a casino near Eagle Pass.

It appears that most of those who died did so as a result of injuries sustained when they were ejected from the bus as it rolled over. Most of the deaths also occurred among passengers who were age 50 or older. The driver was injured but survived the accident.

Bus Lacked Seat Belts

This crash involved an older bus that only came equipped with seat belts for passengers seated in the first few rows behind the driver. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long called for seat belts on charter buses, but the requirement has only recently been made law and does not go into effect until late this year.

The bus also was equipped with anti-lock brakes, but reports indicate that they were not functioning at the time of the crash. The bus company, OGA Charters, has been cited during inspections of its buses for safety violations and maintenance issues and one of its two buses had been ordered out of service by state inspectors.

In 2015, inspectors in Louisiana ordered the bus out of service after they found that 20 percent of its brakes were defective. The same bus was ordered out of service four months later, apparently for the same brake issues and a problem with a discolored windshield, suggesting that none of the problems from the first inspection had been corrected.

The NTSB has begun its investigation of the crash, but it may be a year or more before we learn the results. It will be interesting to see what the NTSB uncovers about the bus company, which was operating a nearly 20-year-old bus. They appear to have had a poor maintenance program and apparently failed to properly track driver's hours of service.

Recent Texas Bus Crashes

Texas has experienced a significant number of tragic and deadly bus crashes in the last few years. Seventeen passengers died in 2008 when a bus blew a tire and went off an overpass. That crash uncovered that the tire had been attached to the hub illegally, that the inspection company was not qualified to determine the buses' roadworthiness and the bus company was not licensed to operate out of the state.

That deadly crash resulted in very complex litigation involving 168 plaintiffs and 11 defendants. It also underscored the often-shoddy operational standards that many bus companies employ and the lack of effective regulation by government authorities.

Regulation of Bus Companies

The commercial bus industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), but as the number of bus operators has grown, there has been no increase in the number of inspectors. Little more than 300 inspectors within the agency are responsible for the inspections of more than 525,000 buses nationwide.

Additional challenges are caused by some operators who are placed out of service and shut down, only to reappear with a new name and the same unsafe business practices. Between 2010 and 2014, 171 passengers on buses were killed in crashes. During the same period, no passengers on commercial airline flights died, even though aircraft carried 124 million more passengers than buses.

Unsafe Practices Discovered Too Late

Commercial buses receive insufficient resources and attention from safety regulators, meaning it is often only after a crash that problems are discovered. Passengers who survive these crashes should obtain legal representation quickly, as the operators of these buses may have limited assets and insurance coverage.

There may be many competing claims from others also injured and many times, a confusing group of potentially responsible parties. Without proper legal guidance, you could wind up receiving inadequate compensation, as bus companies go out of business, declare bankruptcy and exhaust insurance coverage.