Federal investigators examining the root cause of a recent school bus accident that resulted in the death of six adults in Maryland determined there were no mechanical issues with the bus. However, they did find the driver had been – at least at one time in the not-too-distant past – taking medication for treatment of seizures.
Local police in Baltimore said in their concurrent investigation they are trying to determine whether the 67-year-old driver may have suffered some type of medical emergency on the morning of the crash. Preliminary results show that the bus rear-ended a Mustang passenger vehicle before careening into oncoming traffic and slamming into a bus operated by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). The school bus driver, the MTA operator, and four passengers on the MTA bus were killed in the crash. Nearly a dozen people suffered serious injuries.
A police spokesman told The Baltimore Sun that the school employee’s driving record and health history are a significant part of the investigation. The school district disclosed the driver recently passed a department-required physical exam. However, the worker had not yet offered up documentation to the state vehicle administration proving he was in good health. For this reason, he’d lost his commercial driving privileges. Certainly, these issues will become central to any wrongful death lawsuits that will be filed against the school district or the city. Although suing government entities can be a challenge, and damages are typically capped, cases like this often result in settlements before ever making it to trial.
Two years ago, this same driver was operating a passenger vehicle when he crossed over a median into oncoming traffic, slamming into a guardrail, another median, and a cluster of trees. That was according to a local police report, and at the time, the driver’s wife told officers he was taking medications for seizures. Investigating officers concluded in that report that the driver was “believed to have suffered a medical condition,” and he was unable to personally explain to officers what happened.
Because of the severity of the most recent crash and the fact that it involved a school bus, federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are conducting their own analysis, separate from the one being carried out by Baltimore police. A preliminary report from the NTSB is expected in a few weeks.
Local officers have found no indication thus far that there were any issues with the brakes. They have also pretty much ruled out the possibility that the driver might have intentionally struck the MTA vehicle. However, they have concluded the school bus was speeding. An aide, the only other person on the school bus, is being questioned by authorities as to what she witnessed just prior to the bus crash.
Since the driver did not have a commercial license, he was operating the bus illegally. The school district, which contracted with a third-party company to provide busing services, has now ended that contract, saying it’s the only way to restore the faith of parents.
In addition to the driver’s medical history, he also had an extensive record of poor driving. For example, in 2007, he was a named defendant in a crash in which he was accused of attempting to make a left turn in front of another driver, causing a crash with injuries. That case was settled three years later. He lost another civil case in which he was reportedly ordered to pay $2,400 for hitting a parked car when he “veered off the roadway.” He was cited and later pleaded guilty two years ago for a failure to present his registration to an officer. Last year, he was cited for driving a vehicle that had a suspended registration. He was also sued by the county for nearly $200 in traffic tickets that had never been paid after he reportedly ran two red lights, as captured by a red light camera.
The bus was on its way to pick up the first student when this crash occurred. Among those killed include a mother of seven children, a secretary at the state health department, a nursing home maintenance worker, a homeless woman, and a volunteer minister.
Although it’s true that medical emergencies resulting in a crash may invoke the “sudden emergency” doctrine, our bus and truck accident lawyers recognize the defendant has to prove no prior knowledge or experience that could have warned them of this possibility. They have to show the incident wasn’t reasonably foreseeable. Someone with an ongoing seizure disorder would not be able to argue this, and probably their employer wouldn’t either.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
School bus driver involved in crash took seizure medication; investigators rule out mechanical failure, Nov. 4, 2016, By Tim Prudente and Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun
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