The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its findings (summary or full report) regarding the May 2016 charter bus accident near Laredo, Texas that took the lives of nine passengers.
On this page, the charter bus accident injury at The Doan Law Firm explains the NTSB’s findings and how those findings relate to the potential liability of other charter and tour bus operators whose vehicles and employees may become involved in similar accidents.
The accident vehicle, a 1998 Van Hool motorcoach, had left Brownsville, TX at 5:45 on the morning of Saturday, May 14, 2016 with 52 on board (51 passengers and a single driver) and was en route to the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass, a trip of about 330 miles. Around 11:21 a.m. local time the driver lost control of the vehicle while negotiating a standard curve to the right, causing the bus to leave the highway and roll onto its left side. Of the 51 passengers onboard, nine were ejected from the vehicle with seven dead at the scene and two that died later. The remaining passengers, as well as the driver, were injured and were transported to Rio Grande Valley-area hospitals.
After an extensive investigation, the NTSB concluded that the causes of the accident were:
“… the driver’s failure to maintain the motorcoach fully within the northbound travel lane …” The NTSB determined that this failure was caused, or made worse, by:
driver ”… fatigue from an acute sleep deficit &hellip” and to
the driver’s “… blurred distance vision due to hyperglycemia [high blood sugar level] resulting from poorly controlled diabetes …
loss of traction by the vehicle’s wheels due to wet pavement, which was made worse by
a non-functioning anti-lock braking system.
Let’s take a closer look at the NTSB’s findings.
The driver’s diabetes
The driver involved in this accident had previously been diagnosed with Type 2 (“adult onset” or “non-insulin-dependent”) diabetes. Although not considered to be as serious as insulin-dependent diabetes, this condition is frequently accompanied by other conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease that can pose danger to a driver’s ability to promptly respond to changes in road or vehicle conditions.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has allowed those with a diagnosis of Type 1 (“juvenal” or “insulin-dependent”) diabetes to hold a Commercial Driver’s License and to operate a commercial vehicle only if the driver has complied with a strict screening protocol. It is the driver’s responsibility to honestly report their medical history to the CDL-certifying health care provider each time the driver’s CDL and medical certificate are renewed and immediately to his or her employer if a change in the driver’s health could affect the driver’s ability to safely perform their duty. If the driver withheld his medical condition from his employer, or if the employer knew of the condition yet allowed the driver to take to the road, it is likely that a court would view those actions as negligence.
The NTSB noted that the speed limit on the section of the highway where the accident occurred was 75 mph and that the highway was wet at the time the accident occurred. Since it appears that the driver “overcompensated” or “oversteered” the vehicle mere seconds before accident, the vehicle’s loss of traction with the road’s surface may have made the accident unavoidable after that point in time.
Failure of the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system
Commercial vehicles such as buses are far heavier than other vehicles and are thus very difficult to bring to a stop, even under the best of conditions. A critical safety component in preventing a driver from losing control of his or her vehicle to a skid is its anti-lock brake system.
It is not clear whether the bus had shown any indication of problems with its brakes prior to the accident. However, it is unlikely that the failure was a sudden, “bolt out pf the blue,” event. If this was indeed the case, and the bus was dispatched with mechanical problems, a very strong case for liability by negligence on the part of the vehicle’s owner could be made.
In this post we have reviewed the NTSB’s findings in its investigation of the May 14, 2016, multi-fatality charter bus accident near Laredo, Texas. As is often the case with motor vehicle accidents, multiple factors contributed to the accident but no single, predominate factor was identified. This case should be taken as an example of how a series of otherwise relatively minor conditions or events can occur in a rapid sequence with a disastrous outcome.