On other pages of this web site, we have discussed the safety issues that seem to plague the “party bus” and “stretch limousine” businesses. In this post, we are sad to report that a party bus accident in Norfolk, VA has claimed yet another life.
According to a press release issued by the Virginia State Police, 37-year-old Kisha Latrice Marrow-Lott of Hampton, VA was aboard a rented “party bus” in the early morning of October 27, 2018 as a member of a group that had been celebrating at a bachelorette party. As the vehicle was merging into traffic on eastbound I-264 from Waterside Drive Marrow-Lott, who was reported to have been dancing in the aisle next to the vehicle’s door, lost her balance and fell through the front passenger-side folding door of the modified 1998 Ford Cutaway “party bus.” Investigators believe that it was probably a combination of Marrow-Lott’s weight and the momentum of her fall that caused the door to open, allowing her to fall to her death. The vehicle’s driver was not cited by investigators, but it is not clear if the driver was also the vehicle’s owner or if he was driving for its owner.
In accidents involving a fall from a moving vehicle, investigators will concentrate their efforts on two factors: the vehicle, and the vehicle’s driver.
The Ford Cutaway is part of that company’s popular E Series of heavy duty vans, which have been successfully modified to accommodate a variety of uses. Given the vehicle’s model year and configuration, it was probably modified by a “third party” conversion shop rather than by Ford or the vehicle’s owner and had probably changed ownership several times in the past. A review of the available data suggests that the Ford E Seriesdoes not have a record of numerous recalls.
Unlike many vehicles that are converted to a “party bus” or “stretch limousine” configuration, the Ford E-Series was designed to accommodate later modification for heavy duty use. In short, this means that left the Ford factory equipped with a heavy duty suspension, drive train, and braking system already in place. This seems to make it unlikely that a mechanical defect in the vehicle could have been a factor in the accident.
Since it has been speculated that the vehicle’s door gave way and caused Marrow-Lott to fall to her death, investigators have surely examined that door for evidence that it may have been defective and that such a defect may have failed to prevent her from falling to her death.
There has been no published report that investigators have uncovered evidence suggesting that the door malfunctioned in any way. In fact, the door was an “accordion-style” that was constructed to foldinward and thus designed to prevent falls if a passenger inadvertently fell against it from inside.
A search of the available public reports related to this accident indicates that the vehicle’s driver, identified as Michael Wheeler of nearby Newport News, held the appropriate licenses and endorsements required by law to operate a vehicle of that class and weight. Since the driver was not cited at the scene of the accident, it can be safely assumed that no violation of traffic laws occurred immediately prior to the accident. However, as mentioned in the section below, the drivermay have been negligent by allowing Marrow-Lott to stand while the vehicle was maneuvering in traffic.
Although the available information in this case would certainly suggest that Marrow-Lott’s family would have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit against the vehicle’s driver (fornegligence by allowing her to be out of her seat while the vehicle was in motion), the shop that converted the vehicle for passenger use (the door was forced open by someone other than the driver, making the door adefective consumer product), and/or the vehicle’s owner (allowing an unsafe vehicle to be used to transport passengers), under Virginia law her family will be unable to receive damages concerning her death.
In personal injury law, the State of Virginia applies what is known as the “pure contributory negligence rule.” In general, this rule holds that an accident victimcannot collect damages if the victim’s actions contributed in any way to their injury. In other words, if it can be shown that the victim’s conduct was only a 1% factor in their injury, that victim (or the victim’s survivors) would be unable to bring a successful personal injury / wrongful death lawsuit in a Virginia court.
In this case, we have an example how an accident can occur in the apparent absence of evidence suggesting any combination of mechanical failure, intentional traffic law violations, or negligence on the part of the vehicle’s driver. However, it must be kept in mind that many accident law enforcement agency investigations will stop as soon as the investigation indicates that no violation of criminal law was involved. For that reason, it is wise to seek the advice of a personal injury lawyer regarding the possibility that a further accident investigation might reveal factors that were not immediately obvious and thus shed additional light on who, or what, may have caused an accidental injury or death.
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