Bus accident video footage

by Walter Olson on April 16, 2012


Because of a mounted dashboard camera, you can watch the footage of a Quincy, Ill. municipal transit bus on its seemingly uneventful ride until an oncoming car suddenly loses control and swerves directly into its path. [KHQA] If you do watch the footage, released by the plaintiff’s lawyer, see whether you would have predicted that the legal outcome of the crash would turn out to be “city pays $4 million to passenger in car that lost control.” (& welcome Reddit readers).

{ 24 comments }

1 Tom Murin 04.16.12 at 8:36 am

With a negligent free guest passenger this must relate to joint & several liability. That said, the question is where is the negligence of the bus driver? Plaintiff would allege too fast for conditions, failure to maintain a proper lookout, etc. The city (actually, the insurance carrier) decided not to take this to a jury (after a motion for summary judgment was denied?) for some reason. My guess is that the damages must have been extremely high and the chances of getting a no cause verdict on negligence wasn’t worth rolling the dice.

2 Stella Baskomb 04.16.12 at 8:43 am

Predictable? Well, sure.

It wasn’t the passenger’s fault.

And the driver of the minivan sure didn’t have $4 million.

Easy to predict.

3 L. C. Burgundy 04.16.12 at 9:27 am

The lawsuit demand was apparently $3.5-5.5 million, so maybe they saved on trial counsel.

Municipal defendants are, in my limited experience, not very vigorous defendants either. Better to just pay increased premiums than to have to explain a jury a verdict. Actual fault or causation has very little or nothing to do with it.

4 gitarcarver 04.16.12 at 11:21 am

An interview with the plaintiff’s lawyer can be seen here:

http://youtu.be/4bnUklghHKI

He says the plaintiff will need an estimated $9-10 million dollars in long term medical care. In addition, he said they were looking at lost wages, quality of life, etc.

The interviewer says “both vehicles were speeding,” and the lawyer corrects him by noting the vehicle his client was in was braking, leaving the impression the bus was speeding. Yet when you watch the video and pay attention to the telemetry, the bus is going 28 mph in a 30 mph zone.

5 ps 04.16.12 at 11:37 am

insurance companies have become their own worst enemies.

6 John Rohan 04.16.12 at 11:38 am

Why not? It’s not like the money is coming out of the city council’s pockets. So they can afford to be overly generous, as long as it is someone else’s money they are spending! I hope the voters will remember this blatant mismanagement of funds come election day.

7 Robert 04.16.12 at 12:08 pm

The fact is they settled. Who knows what a jury would say. But the lawyers can probably pull the history of settlements for incidents that result in a kid-in-a-wheelchair, and know what the best option is.

This isn’t quite as bad as when California paid several millions of my tax dollars to the parents of “Porshe Girl” because there’s a slim chance the bus driver may have been driving a little too fast.

8 antiredistributionist 04.16.12 at 1:01 pm

What is the law in Illinois re: allocation of liability among tortfeasors?

9 another guy named Dan 04.16.12 at 1:42 pm

@gitarcarver – I’m sure that the plaintiff’s lawyer meant speeding in the sense of “driving too fast for conditions”. The problem is that this nearly always is defined circularly:
“The car ended up in the ditch because he was driving too fast for conditions.”
“What evidence do you have that he was driving too fast?”
“He ended up in the ditch.”

10 gitarcarver 04.16.12 at 2:41 pm

@another guy named Dan – I would disagree in that the lawyer specifically states the car in which his client was in was not speeding, but yet that was the car that skidded out of control.

11 LisaMarie 04.16.12 at 4:07 pm

Geez, how slow would you have to be traveling to brake in time to avoid something like that?

12 Anonymous Attorney 04.16.12 at 4:37 pm

“Municipal defendants are, in my limited experience, not very vigorous defendants either. Better to just pay increased premiums than to have to explain a jury a verdict. Actual fault or causation has very little or nothing to do with it.”

“insurance companies have become their own worst enemies.”

Some truth here. I did both insurance defense and municipal defense (self-insured), and there was a slight bias for settling. Big injuries were the biggest factor in driving us away from the risk of a trial, for the pretty depressing reason that juries aren’t going to perform the mental surgery of separating a badly hurt victim from weak or no liability. Plaintiff’s lawyers know this, and take full advantage.

So why play games about what’s going here? Instead of the tort system, call it the “mandatory supplemental insurance program.”

13 Andrew 04.16.12 at 7:41 pm

I used to be a transit bus driver and transit driving instructor. This accident isn’t as clear-cut as it looks to the inexperienced eye, and liability of course depends greatly on state law.

This appears to be one of the smaller “shuttle”-type buses. So, its stopping distance is not going to be as long as with a full-sized (35- or 40-foot) transit bus. However, even if the driver had seen the oncoming vehicle start to swerve immediately, that bus was not going to get stopped before the point of collision. What concerns me, however, is that it does not appear that the driver slowed down. I can’t tell for sure without all the information whether the driver tried to brake and hydroplaned or whether the driver never got to the brake. I suspect a bit of driver inattention here, but again, without more information I can’t say. The driver had less than two seconds to react here. If the brakes are air brakes (which on this design of bus, they may or may not be), the brakes would be slower to respond by about three-quarters of a second. A faster reaction may have resulted in either colliding with the back part of the van or avoiding the collision altogether.

Obviously, the oncoming vehicle crossed the center line and would have the citable offense. But, I do not know Illinois law regarding whether the bus driver had a duty to mitigate damages, whether there are odd no-fault provisions, etc.

In short, this would have been a complicated and expensive case, probably requiring a number of experts on both sides. I can at least see how the city’s decision to settle is plausible.

14 Richard Nieporent 04.16.12 at 8:49 pm

Andrew, are you sure that you are not thinking about a video game? In real life one can not be expected to react in time to a car that comes flying at you from the other side of the road. In fact I don’t think that it is humanly possible to avoid hitting that car.

15 DEM 04.16.12 at 9:00 pm

Andrew, the fact that this would have been an expensive and complicated case is precisely why it is on Overlawyered. The oncoming vehicle crossed the median, as you say. The collision was unavoidable. So why on Earth should it be necessary to spend gobs of time and money sorting out the extent to which the city is liable for an accident it plainly did not cause and could not have prevented?

The answer is simple: deep pockets. The fault lies with the driver of the oncoming vehicle, if it lies anywhere. But odds are he/she has a liability limit well below $1 million, so our civil “justice” system tells the only deep pocket left: you are the real target, we don’t care about actual tortfeasor’s liability. Now spend tons of money to defend yourself and roll the dice in front of a jury whose heartstrings will be tugged at length by the victim’s lawyers.

Yes, it is a rational decision to settle in the face of that emotional diceroll. The issue is that the jury system and our tort law have become welath redistribution schemes that are designed to bring about that very result, regardless of fault.

16 jd 04.16.12 at 10:41 pm

I do not see how this case survives a summary judgment motion, or even a directed verdict presuming this were to go to trial.

What, exactly, is the breach of duty here? The bus driver is driving 28 mph in a 30 mph zone. Is that unreasonable? If so, then what speed is “reasonable” here? 25? 20? Even less?

Then, presuming a breach of duty, where is the causation? If the bus driver had been driving a “reasonable” speed, say 20 mph, would the collision have been avoided? “If a defendant’s negligence does nothing more than furnish a condition by which injury is made possible, that negligence is not the proximate cause of injury.” Thompson v. County of Cook, 154 Ill.2d 374 (1993).

17 Andrew 04.16.12 at 10:51 pm

@Richard Nieporent — I may have obscured my point. The only reason the driver may (and I stress may) have been able to lessen the seriousness of the accident by hitting the brake sooner was blind luck. In different circumstances, in which the oncoming driver had lost control a little later, more successful braking may have resulted in a worse accident. There is no way that any bus driver would have been able to weigh all the physics in that instant — the only course of action would be to brake, probably using controlled stab braking unless the vehicle had ABS (and, yes, the driver should already know whether that was the case). Even then, as I said, stopping before the point of collision would have been impossible. For the driver even to reach the brake, though, the driver would have had to be looking the right place at the right time. Two seconds to reach the brake isn’t impossible, but it’s also not likely to do a whole lot of good in this situation.

@DEM — Yes, exactly. But, what’s the solution? I don’t know that a “no-fault” system is it, since it still relies on insurance to pay all the claims.

18 Robert 04.17.12 at 11:02 am

I wonder if any law or contract prohibits the driver of the bus from personally suing the driver of the car? He (or she) may have damages, like PTSD, and damage to his reputation.

19 mike 04.17.12 at 11:48 am

JD, very very few cases get thrown out via MSJ, all you need is one (paid) expert to say the bus has some liability and it goes to a jury…..

The average person does not know our legal system works this way, or they would be in favor of reasonable tort reform.

This case is everything that is wrong with the our legal system, I see it every day :(

20 gitarcarver 04.18.12 at 12:49 am

A friend of mine is a trained accident investigator. He looked at this video and said in his mind, the bus driver was not at fault.

He cites the following:

The bus is totally under control. When it makes the turn, there is no evidence of sliding, over revving o f the engine, etc to indicate the bus was traveling too fast for the conditions.

According to his table of information, a small bus would take 100 feet to stop under the best of conditions. In two seconds, at 28 mph, the bus traveled a little over 40 feet. There is no way the bus could have stopped in time.

Combine that with there is no place for the bus to go – it cannot avoid to the left or the right, the bus was not doing anything wrong or out of the ordinary.

Contrast that with the van. It is the only vehicle that you see that is out of control, spinning wheels, etc. The rest of the line of cars are all clearly under control. As it goes into its slide, it passes other cars in the lane. This is an indication that it was traveling too fast for the conditions.

He then said in his opinion, the bus and the bus driver did nothing wrong that contributed to this accident. He then said that because the city has the deep pockets and the plaintiff is “sympathetic,” he believed that city settled for that reason – not for the facts being against them.

You can take his opinion for what it is worth, but I thought it was interesting to note here.

21 Max Kennerly 04.18.12 at 9:48 pm

I wish I could see some of the discovery on this one, but two things are worth pointing out.

First, the bus appeared to be driving over 30mph at the time of the accident. Notice that there’s some delay in the speed registered in the video: it says “28 mph” at the time of the accident and then “31 mph” immediately after, which is obviously not correct. Was the bus driver speeding? Was it “pedal misapplication,” with the driver hitting the gas instead of the brakes? I don’t know. But anyone who confidently asserts the drive was without fault needs to explain that “31 mph” reading, and then also explain why they think even 30 mph would be appropriate in those circumstanes.

Second, assuming this is an example of the city paying to avoid joint and several liability or of the municipality not fighting hard enough, anyone who argues against this system needs to recognize the consequences of alternative systems. In Pennsylvania, for example, municipal liability is capped, which is why a high school student who lost her leg when a blatantly negligent school bus driver ran over her can’t collect more than $500k. I think that’s unfair; maybe you think otherwise, but denying that injustices will happen with municipal liability caps and removing joint and several is just dishonest.

22 Richard Nieporent 04.19.12 at 9:52 am

Now we get to hear from an unbiased source – a trial lawyer. This is from Max Kennerly’s web site: “I’m a trial lawyer for injured people and businesses at The Beasley Firm. Founded in 1958, we have recovered over $2 billion for our clients through hundreds of verdicts and settlements in excess of $1 million. We’re listed in Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, U.S. News’s Top Lawyers.”

Only a trial lawyer “for injured people” would think the bus driver was at fault. After all that is where the money is.

Notice that there’s some delay in the speed registered in the video: it says “28 mph” at the time of the accident and then “31 mph” immediately after. But anyone who confidently asserts the drive was without fault needs to explain that “31 mph” reading, and then also explain why they think even 30 mph would be appropriate in those circumstanes (sic).

Do you think that it is possible that the impact of the collision may have caused a faulty reading?

Are you arguing that anyone driving on a road should have to factor into their driving that a car from the other side of the road is going to cross over and skid right in front of their vehicle? How, prey tell, does one do that? I would say that driving at 28 mph is already factoring in the weather condition into his driving. The only person that was at fault was the driver of the car that lost control of his vehicle. I am only surprised that you didn’t argue that the highway department was also at fault because there was no barrier separating the two sides of the road.

23 gitarcarver 04.19.12 at 9:56 am

Max,

The 31 mph reading for an instant can be blamed on several factors including the slight lateral force the car puts on the bus. The interesting thing is that when the bus is traveling at 28, there is no increase in engine speed which makes it hard to say that the bus was traveling faster than the 28 mph the box registered consistently prior to the accident.

Secondly, the bus was under control. The only person driving too fast for the conditions appears to be the driver of the van. In essence, the theory seems to be “we believe the bus driver and the city should be punished for controlling their vehicle in a reasonable manner.”

Lastly, your “offer another solution” appears to me to be trying to make the point that because one negligent driver / city / bus company was at fault for an accident, all drivers / bus companies / cities should be held accountable for any accident. There is no perfect system, but people are more receptive to ideas that penalize the guilty than penalize the innocent because the guilty may have gotten away with something.

24 Bill Poser 04.19.12 at 10:07 pm

I was actually in a nearly identical accident. I was driving below the speed limit on a road that was clear and dry except for a bit of slush along the center line when an oncoming car swerved right in front of me, as if making a left turn but much too close. My SUV was a write-off but I was only shaken up. The other vehicle, also an SUV, was badly damaged, probably a write-off,, and the driver fairly seriously injured, though I don’t know exactly what the outcome was. The RCMP said that she appeared to have lost control when she got too close to the center line and her left front tire hit the slush. The accident was deemed her fault and her insurance paid me for my vehicle.

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