In light of the April 10th, 2014 accident that occurred near Orland, California involving a head-on collision between FedEx (aka FedEx Corporation) and Silverado Stages (aka Silverado Stages, Inc.), there has been increased attention regarding the potential civil and criminal liabilities that Silverado Stages, Inc. may be facing despite being hit by an independent contractor for the FedEx Corporation.
It has been reported that an initial lawsuit has named both FedEx Corporation and Silverado Stages, Inc. in the amount of $100 million (source: http://www.truckinginfo.com/news/story/2014/04/first-lawsuit-filed-over-deadly-fedex-freight-bus-crash.aspx).
News of this lawsuit has lead to increased attention as to why Silverado Stages has been named in this lawsuit despite the circumstances and initial reports of this accident when it was witnessed that a FedEx-marked commercial motor vehicle crossed a 57-foot median and slammed head-first into one of commercial motor vehicle units owned and operated by Silverado Stages, Inc. while it was operating in its own lane and following the rules of the road.
This unfortunate accident resulted in the deaths of 10 individuals, of which nine were aboard a Silverado Stages motor coach.
Despite this unfortunate accident, it appears that Silverado Stages may have causal responsibility following the head-on collision for the deaths of eight individuals, who were Silverado Stages passengers, in light of the federal rules and safety standards that are pertinent to passenger safety.
Review of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations
and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Standards
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Silverado Stages may have causal responsibility because of inactions on the part of its employee or independent contactors that occurred prior to the April 10th, 2014 accident.
There are a number of pertinent federal regulations related to an increased investigation into Silverado Stages, Inc. and is setting a renewed precedent into the careful details relating to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and how it applies to the entire over-the-road motor coach industry.
Two of the relevant Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations are Part 392.62 (Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles – Safe Operations, Buses) and Part 392.8 (Emergency Equipment, Use and Inspection), as well as Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 571 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), Subpart B, Section 217 – Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release.
The overriding safety consideration is the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards under Part 571 to ensure properly working bus emergency exits and window retention and releases.
The purpose of Part 571, Section 217 is to minimize the likelihood of occupants being thrown from the bus and to provide a means of readily accessible emergency egress.
It has been reported that a number of occupants of Silverado Stages following the head-on collision were ejected from the bus that caused injury or death (source: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2014/04/13/california-bus-crash-investigators-say-some-victims-were-ejected-upon-impact/).
Under provision S5.2 of Part 571, Section 217, Provision of Emergency Exits, a bus with a GVWR rating of more than 10,000 pounds must satisfy the unobstructed openings requirement by providing at least one side door and “for each three passenger seating positions”.
In addition, Part 571 concludes that emergency exits can replace a side door as long as the emergency exits are “unobstructed”.
In accordance with Part 571, Section 217, Buses, other than school buses, shall provide unobstructed openings for an emergency exit, which collectively amount, in total square centimeters, to at least 432 times the number ofdesignated seating positions on the bus.
At least 40 percent of the total required area ofunobstructed openings, computed in the above manner, shall be provided on each side of a bus.However, in determining the total unobstructed openings provided by a bus, no emergency exit, regardless of its area, shall be credited with more than 3,458 square centimeters of the total area requirement.
Therefore, if the buses’ emergency exits are obstructed through the windows that serve as a readily accessible emergency egress, then the over-the-road motor coach carrier is liable under Part 571, Section 217, because it is the duty and responsibility of the title holder of the over-the-road motorcoach to ensure that the emergency exits are unobstructed which may be covered under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.
Over-the-Road motor coach operators are required to follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations in adherence to the scope and mission of safe passenger operations.
Under Part 392.62 (Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles – Safe Operations, Buses) and Part 392.8 (Emergency Equipment, Use and Inspection), all motor coach companies that fall under 49 Parts 300 – 399 are required to follow FMCSA rules and regulations including ensuring that emergency exits are “unobstructed” per the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
It is not enough for an over-the-road motor coach operator and its employee, during the completion of a pre-and-post-trip vehicle inspection report, to confirm that the emergency windows are in good working order because of the following regulation set forth under Part 392.62.
As a part of the pre-trip procedures from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, safety topics are required to be provided by the bus driver to its passengers personally or through a pre-trip safety video that covering the following safety elements:
- Pointing out the location of all emergency exits including “push-out windows”
- An explanation of how to operate push-out windows serving as emergency exits
- Encourage able-bodied passengers to assist any injured or mobility-impaired passengers during an emergency evacuation
- Point out the location of a fire extinguisher
- Inform motorcoach passengers of the emergency signal device in the restroom
Based on the initial reports, there was a considerable amount of confusion on the part of passengers on how to exit the Silverado Stages motorcoach that was hit head-on by the FedEx truck.
Additionally, following the impact, it has been initially concluded by the National Traffic Safety Board that the motor coach driver for Silverado Stages died on impact, which would leave the passengers to rely on the pre-trip procedures outlined above.
Based on the initial lawsuit naming both FedEx Corporation and Silverado Stages, Inc. as defendants, it appears that Silverado Stages has been named because of its failure to adhere to Part 392.62 ensuring that the emergency exits were unobstructed because the driver for Silverado Stages, Inc. failed to inform its passengers on how to safely operate the push-out windows as emergency exits either through himself or through a pre-trip safety video on either leg one and/or leg two of their trip, source: http://abc7.com/archive/9530810/.
Additionally, it can be concluded that Silverado Stages may have also violated FMCSA Regulation Part 392.8 (Emergency Equipment, Use and Inspection), because “no commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver thereof is satisfied that the emergency equipment required by § 393.95 of this subchapter is in place and ready for use; nor shall any driver fail to use or make use of such equipment when and as needed.
If the driver failed, based on witness reports, to inform passengers inside the Silverado Stages motorcoach that the emergency equipment is: (1) is in place; (2) ready for use; (3) and no driver shall fail to make use of such equipment when and as needed by failing to inform its’ passengers.
Consequential Liabilities & Best Practice Lessons –
Silverado Stages and the Over-the-Road Motorcoach Industry
Suffice it to say, the days of the lack of “under-regulation” from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is now over in part because of the nature of the accidental deaths that have occurred like the one in Orland, California.
While Silverado Stages, Inc. was hit head-on by a FedEx truck in this very unfortunate passenger incident, it appears that passengers are claiming Silverado Stages, Inc. is negligent for the injuries and deaths of its passengers pursuant to FMCSA Regulation Part 392.8, FMCSA Regulation Part 392.62 and Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 571 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), Subpart B, Section 217 – Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release.
The moment Silverado Stages commenced on either of the two legs of their charter trip and if its employees or independent contractors failed to inform its passengers regarding the use and operation of its emergency egress options, there was a violation of federal code, if that is what indeed occurred.
As of right now, witness reports based on formal legal discovery procedure will have initially ascertained these important details in order to determine if in fact this has happened and whether or not on-board video cameras and/or audio devices were installed on this particular unit and ascertained whether or not it recorded the bus driver providing the appropriate instructions to its passengers on either of the two legs of its trip.
The liabilities that Silverado Stages, Inc. is facing include the possibility of receiving an imminent hazard out-of-service order that places the company out of business because the Silverado Stages, Inc. driver/s did not follow the companies’ safety policies as well as federal regulations.
Also, if Silverado Stages, Inc. was utilizing an insurance policy on this trip that had a high limit of $5 million, it is possible that Silverado Stages, Inc. will have to have a discussion regarding its own legal avenues including a cross-complaint against FedEx Corporation and/or file for bankruptcy protection.
Either way, this accident serves as an example that providing passengers a pre-trip or pre-leg briefing regarding the use of emergency exits would provide an opportunity to save the lives of passengers and limit the liability that a company may have to face.
© 2014 United States Transit Funding, Inc.