A Philadelphia jury recently awarded a $5 million verdict to four passengers injured in a Greyhound bus crash with a tractor-trailer.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. on October 9, 2013, the bus driver was on an overnight trip from New York to Cleveland when she slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer on I-80 in Pennsylvania. The force of impact threw one passenger from the bus. The woman died and dozens more were injured. Some passengers said that the bus had been fishtailing for miles. Others said the bus driver had red eyes when she was taking tickets in New York. A motorist on the road at the time said he saw the bus swerving and remembered thinking, “They are going to kill somebody.”
An investigation determined that the cause of the accident was due to the bus driver falling asleep behind the wheel. To add insult to injury, on the day of the crash Greyhound representatives tried to make settlement offers with victims by approaching them at the crash site and while they were in the hospital. In one situation, an adjuster acting on behalf of Greyhound was aware that a woman was admitted with a concussion and was “groggy”, yet still attempted to end her injury claim by offering her $1,000 to settle. Then, a Greyhound Terminal Manager entered her room offering $45,000. Such tactics are used by corporations and their insurance companies in an attempt to reduce the amount that they need to pay for medical bills and expenses. The insurance company also requires a full release of liability. That means if damages turn out to be more serious or the medical bills were excessive, this innocent victim would be left holding the bag with no real recourse.
The victims did not fall for these low-ball attempts to settle and instead chose to seek expert legal advice. So, Greyhound tried to discount the claims saying that the crash was not due to driver fatigue, but rather because the bus driver had a stroke. The company even went so far as to withhold information from the plaintiffs’ attorneys in which expert testimony refuted that claim. Why would Greyhound employ all these tactics? You guessed it – profits over the safety of its passengers!
After a six-week trial, the jury awarded separate verdicts, totaling $3.05 million in compensatory money damages and an additional $2 million in punitive damages. The bus driver was found 55 percent negligent and Greyhound 45 percent negligent. The case hinged on Greyhound’s G-40 rule stating that drivers are supposed to stop approximately every 150 miles to walk around the bus and check the tires, and to refresh and stretch to mitigate fatigue. The investigation revealed that the rule was only treated as a guideline, and that management does not enforce the safety rule; the onus is on the driver.
The individual verdict amounts were allocated as follows:
- $3 million for a 21-year-old woman who sustained cervical spine injuries, non- displaced broken bones in her foot, displaced tibia fibula fracture requiring surgery, skull and facial fractures and a traumatic brain injury.
- $850,000 for a man who suffered from jaw and dental injuries, a broken wrist, and knee and ankle injuries.
- $625,000 for a female passenger who sustained a concussion and underwent six months of chiropractic visits for a back sprain and strain.
- $575,000 for a passenger who suffered from spinal sprain and strain and received approximately six medical treatments.
This trial was the first of four scheduled trials, each one on behalf of four clients – including the estate of the woman who was ejected and killed in this crash.
Greyhound may soon be facing lawsuits from a January 2016 bus crash near San Jose, California, as well. In this incident, the bus careened into safety barrels, flipped over and came to rest on the center divider. Two passengers ejected from the bus were killed; nearly two dozen others were injured. The investigation is ongoing, but the driver told a California Highway Patrol officer that he felt tired and had stopped for a caffeine jolt shortly before the crash.
How many more serious injuries and fatalities must happened before Greyhound puts safety over profits? “Until Greyhound is restructured and safety is given adequate priority and oversight, particularly with respect to fatigue management of its drivers and enforcement of its safety rules, these fatigue-related highway crashes will likely continue,” said Lead Counsel Jon Ostroff. “It’s time for the government to intervene and create regulations intended to prevent these fatigue-related crashes from continuing. Appropriate regulations must be implemented, especially with inherently dangerous long routes like the one in our case, which was an overnight, 463-mile route with only one scheduled rest stop for the driver,” he said.
We continue to be a nation on the move; buses and motor coaches remain a popular and cost-effective way for millions of Americans to travel. Before Greyhound packs another one of its buses with passengers, it needs to review and enforce its policies. The traveling public deserves safer service; Greyhound owes its passengers a commitment to safety. It is time to put the brakes on fatigue related crashes.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.