$124.5 Million Jury Verdict in 15 Passenger Van Accident Lawsuit Serves as Primer on Key Issues


January 23, 2011

A jury in Texas awarded seven passengers who were injured or killed in a 15 passenger van rollover accident $124.5 million dollars. 15 passenger vans are notorious for being prone to rollover because they have a high center of gravity. Government statistics indicate that over 1,500 people have been killed in 15 passenger van accidents since 1990, with approximately twenty-five percent of those accidents being rollover accidents.

Many of the issues involved in the Texas case illustrate important issues that are commonly involved in 15 passenger van rollover accidents. At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, we have been representing Georgia residents who suffer serious injury or wrongful death in 15 passenger van accidents for over 25 years. An overview of some of the key issues involved in 15 passenger van accident lawsuits are provided below:

Unsafe and Inexperienced Drivers: In the Texas case, there was testimony that the driver of the van was going too fast for road conditions. Despite trying to negotiate a snow covered road, the driver was going so fast that people in the van were frantically checking their seatbelts prior to the crash. The driver was eating a hamburger with one hand, gripping the steering wheel with the other and cutting in and out of traffic at 70-75 mph in snowy road conditions. 15 passenger vans are longer and less responsive than other vehicles and also have a high center of gravity. They require an experienced driver and extra caution, particularly during adverse weather conditions. Drivers who are inexperienced in the unique handling differences associated with a 15 passenger van or who do not exercise safe driving practices are often a key cause of 15 passenger van accidents.

Distracted Driving: While multi-tasking while driving is always dangerous and causes a substantial number of serious auto accidents, the inherent design characteristics of a 15 passenger van make distracted driving even more dangerous. The driver in the Texas case was reportedly eating a hamburger and driving with one hand as he sped down the icy road prior to the accident. Any activity that keeps the driver of a 15 passenger van from focusing entirely on the road and potential hazards creates a significant risk of an accident.

Lack of Functioning Seat Belts: 15 passenger vans frequently have an insufficient number of seat belts or seat belts that are non-functioning. The passengers in the Texas case were reportedly panicked because they could not locate their seat belts or had buckles that did not function correctly. The mental anguish suffered by the passengers who realized that they were in danger and likely to be involved in a serious accident was partially responsible for the size of the jury award.

Inadequate Van Maintenance: Given the propensity of vans to rollover, it is critical that the tires are in good condition and that the air pressure is at the correct level. It is also important that seat belts be in proper working order because it prevents vehicle ejections. The van in the Texas case had bald tires and seat belts that were either missing or not functioning properly. Because the van was not fully equipped with functioning seat belts, multiple passengers were ejected from the vehicle.

Employment Relationship vs. Independent Contractor: One of the key issues in the Texas case was whether the driver of the van was an independent contractor. The bus company tried to argue that it was not liable for the driver's actions because he was not an employee. This is a common tactic in many cases like this where the company tries to distance itself from the driver and claim he is an independent contractor. In the Texas case, evidence was introduced that the bus driver and a terminal operator for the bus company both identified the driver as an employee. An experienced Georgia 15 passenger van accident attorney will typically conduct an extensive investigation of company documents including contracts and communications and interviews of management, drivers and other employees to develop evidence establishing an employment relationship between the driver and the busing company. Even where there is not an employment relationship, an experienced Georgia 15-passenger van accident lawyer may still establish that the busing company engaged in negligent hiring of an independent contractor.

Motor Carrier Subject to Federal Regulations: The busing company tried to argue that it was not a motor carrier subject to federal regulations and the higher level of care that is applicable to common carriers. A motor carrier is subject to a higher standard of care as opposed to an ordinary prudent person standard that applies to ordinary drivers. The court in the Texas case found that the company was a motor carrier and required to exercise a higher standard of care.

These are just some of the common issues that arise in Georgia 15 passenger van accident lawsuits. At Montlick and Associates, we have been representing those who suffer catastrophic injuries and wrongful death in 15 passenger van accidents for over a quarter of a century. Our experienced Georgia 15 passenger van accident lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located, we are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24 hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Montlick Law

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.