A jury on Monday cleared a Carson-based bus dealership of liability in a rollover bus crash that killed two Chinese tourists and injured eight others traveling to the Grand Canyon.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favor of BusWest in a lawsuit filed by 13 plaintiffs whose attorneys alleged there likely would have been fewer casualties had the company spent $168 to equip the minibus with seat belts. The lawyers had recommended damages in the collective amount of $57 million.
“Our hearts went out to the plaintiffs, but we just didn’t think there was any responsibility on the part of the dealer,” the jury forewoman said.
She said bus owner Betti Chi could have provided the plaintiffs with a bus that had seat belts and that the tourists themselves made the decision to board a bus that was not so equipped.
David Lira, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said he was disappointed with the verdict.
“We think it’s a blow to public safety,” Lira said.
Lira said he disagreed with a court ruling that required the attorneys to apply Indiana law to the trial given that bus manufacturer Forest River Inc., which is based in that state, was no longer a party to the case. He said he will talk to the plaintiffs about whether they want to appeal.
Douglas Robinson, a lawyer for BusWest, said during final arguments Friday that his clients had no role in providing the minibus’ specifications.
“They weren’t design, safety deciders,” he said.
Lira said seven of the 10 tourists who were without seat belts were ejected from the 2006 Starcraft bus in the crash, which occurred at 8:05 a.m. Oct. 17, 2010, on a sharp curve along what is locally known as Pierce Ferry Road, which is just of U.S. Highway 93 in Arizona.
The bus, which departed from Las Vegas earlier that morning, was similar in size to vehicles commonly used to shuttle passengers from parking lots in amusement parks.
The plaintiffs included injured passengers as well as relatives of those hurt or killed. Lira argued $57 million was a reasonable amount of compensation covering all the plaintiffs’ physical and emotional losses.
Earlier in the trial, Zhi Lu of El Monte testified that he was driving the minibus to the Grand Canyon Sky Walk when it rolled over on a curve. He said he was traveling about 40-50 mph and did not see a sign before the bend that called for a reduction in top speed from 55 mph to 35 mph.
Lu testified that only he and a Chinese-American tour guide seated behind him had seatbelts and that both of them walked away uninjured.
Robinson maintained that fault for the accident was attributable to Lu and his employer, Industry-based TBE International Inc., which was owned by Chi. The company bought the van from BusWest in March 2008.
TBE, Chi and Forest River Inc., settled with the plaintiffs before trial for a collective total of $8.25 million.
— City News Service