By: Allan M. Siegel
Following last week’s fatal charter bus accident in Queens that killed
three victims, officials and advocates are again demanding a closer look
into thousands of private bus companies operating in the U.S. While what
they are likely to find, unfortunately, is nothing secret, it is incredibly
alarming. That’s because many private bus companies with poor safety
records and numerous violations continue to operate and serve riders –
and they are able to do so because local governments have little power
to regulate and take action.
Dahlia Group, the company responsible for the charter bus involved in last
week’s tragic crash, is one example of bus companies that continue
operations despite questionable safety records. An investigation into
Dahlia Group’s safety record revealed that the company was involved
in two other fatal accidents in the past 14 years, both of which occurred
while passengers were being transported to local casinos, and that the
bus driver, who investigators stated was speeding at the time of the crash,
had previously been convicted of drunk driving and was fired by the MTA.
Although the cause of last week’s wreck has still not been determined,
Dahlia Group’s checkered past is more common than most would think
in the private bus industry. This includes Yep Tour, a private bus company
that continues to operate in New York despite having received more than
200 safety violations in the past two years and pleas from city officials
to shut it down. Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
(FMCSA), which oversees interstate bus and trucking companies, places
Yep Tour in the bottom 10% of all bus companies in the country for three
years running. Although three Yep Tour buses were seized by NYC authorities
after the company failed to pay over $300,000 in fines, the city still
issued Yep Tour a permit for it to pick up and drop off passengers between
New York, Pennsylvania, and even Washington, DC when the Massachusetts-based
company successfully argued that the city did not have the right to interfere
with an out-of-state company’s interstate operations.
In a $5 billion private bus industry with over 3,200 operators, including
many discount and budget bus companies that contract with casinos to ferry
gamblers, many companies have distressing records of violating safety
rules, poorly maintaining vehicles, overworking employees, and failing
to properly test and qualify drivers. Those bus companies and their spotty
records often come to light only after tragedy strikes, and when local
lawmakers attempt to make changes or tighten regulations in response,
they find that they are limited due to the fact that federal law pre-empts
local laws when it comes to buses.
As experts state, the problem with enacting safety changes and getting
unsafe bus companies off the road stems from a patchwork system where
buses are overseen and regulated by the federal, state, and local government.
Although states have licensing powers, local agencies have little ability
to limit the activity of bus companies. Unfortunately, the federal government,
which does have that ability, often falls short in taking action against
bus lines with excessive safety violations. While we have reported on
federal investigations into the bus industry in the past, advocates argue that more can be done, especially when it
comes to oversight of all companies and their safety records.
While budget bus lines provide a needed service to consumers, that service
should never come at the expense of public safety. As a personal injury
law firm with experience representing victims of
tractor-trailer wrecks, and other serious accidents involving corporations, we have seen all
too often how companies will continue to skirt laws and prioritize profits
over people when they are not held accountable.
Because there are difficulties in regulation at the local level –
and a need for better oversight overall that will ensure transportation
companies take reasonable measures to prevent tragedies – it is
often the case that these companies are only called out and held accountable
when victims and families hold them civilly liable. These civil
personal injury and
wrongful death cases are powerful tools for victims to secure justice after being harmed
and wronged by negligent conduct, and they are critical to raising awareness
and sending a message to other operators that such conduct will not be
tolerated. However, the fight to prevent tragedies that could and should
be prevented still requires better regulations and laws.
In the face of challenges posed by lax regulatory policies, poor oversight,
and other issues, our Washington, DC personal injury lawyers at Chaikin,
Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. take our role as advocates all the
more seriously. As we fight for victims and families who have already
been harmed, we also fight to prevent similar tragedies from affecting
innocent victims in the future. We believe we play an important role for
both our clients and public safety, which is why we always fight aggressively
when working to hold corporations accountable for their negligence.
If you have questions regarding your rights after a bus accident or any
other preventable accident, our legal team is available to fight on your behalf.
Contact us to discuss your needs during a free consultation.