Many of our readers probably remember the bus accident that occurred in Huntsville, Alabama, on November 20, 2006. Four students lost their lives and numerous others sustained physical injuries when the bus climbed a median wall and fell off the interstate to the ground below. The bus was equipped with a seat belt for the driver, but it lacked seat belts for the student passengers. Our firm continues to represent the family of Nicole Ford, who died in the crash. Kendall Dunson is the lead lawyer for the firm in the case. After we filed suit on behalf of Nicole’s family, Governor Riley appointed a task force to examine evidence on seat belts in school buses to determine whether the state should change its laws to allow Alabama school buses to include seat belts for student passengers.
After receiving information and testimony from experts, the bus manufacturing industry and safety advocates, the group recommended that Alabama test buses with seat belts statewide. Results from the study will apparently be used to make recommendations to the state legislature either supporting or opposing passenger seat belts on school buses. Regardless of the results of the study, certain parties will oppose seat belts on school buses. Seat belts on school buses increase costs to bus manufacturers, thereby cutting into their profits. Bus companies, such as the defendant in this case, Laidlaw, would be required to increase spending to train their drivers. In addition, school districts would be required to purchase new buses equipped with seat belts. Opponents will argue that changing the state’s law would be too expensive.
Proponents of the change will counter that any increased cost is justified because buses with seat belts are safer for our children. Once again, the debate will turn on whether profits are more important than safety. There is little doubt in my mind as to whether school buses should be equipped with seat belts – I am convinced that they should be. There is also little doubt as to what generally takes precedence in far too many debates over vehicle safety — and that’s profits. Hopefully, that won’t be the case this time. The welfare of children on school buses – who can be protected by seat belts – should tip the scales this time toward safety.
Action by our state legislature could take months, or even years, or a change may not occur at all. In the meantime, bus accidents continue to occur and students are being killed or injured when a seat belt could have eliminated or reduced their injuries and prevented the deaths. Until the laws are changed, it is incumbent upon bus companies like Laidlaw to ensure that their management and drivers are qualified, competent, have good moral character and follow the rules of the road including wearing their own seat belts, which are installed for drivers, while driving the bus. Our case against Laidlaw is set for trial in November of this year. The quality, competence, moral character and the ability of the driver in this case to follow the rules of the road will be important issues at the trial of this matter. Laidlaw failed to ensure that its employees were fit to perform the most important function of transporting children to and from school. By failing to live up to the requirements of its contract with the City of Huntsville, Laidlaw failed those students who died and were injured. We will keep you updated on the progress of this case. Kendall Dunson is the contact lawyer for our firm on the case. If you want any information on the case or the seat belt issue generally, feel free to contact him at 800-898-2034.
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