Are passengers in Chicago that ride party buses insured in case of an accident resulting in death?
Grieving mother in Chicago who lost her son in a party bus hit-and-run: “These buses are not safe.”
It was a terrible freak accident that led to the untimely death of a young man. In the early morning hours of June 3, 2017, a party bus was headed northbound on Interstate 294 in Northbrook, Illinois. The bus was traveling at normal speeds.
At around 3 a.m., one passenger on the bus, 27-year-old James Larsen, got up and walked to the front to turn up the volume on the music. He tripped and fell down the stairs, which might have been bad enough… but his troubles didn’t end there. Larsen fell out the doors of the bus and onto the freeway, where he was struck by an SUV.
Larsen died at the scene. Tragically, he was (as his mother pointed out in a statement after his death) punished for doing the right thing, leaving his car and taking a bus rather than driving drunk. The SUV drove off, and was sought by police for hit-and-run.
However, soon after Larsen’s death, questions began to surface about the safety of the bus he had been riding on at the time of the accident. When Larsen fell against the single-pane hydraulic door of the bus, it appears to have opened automatically, sending him falling onto the pavement.
And although this would appear at first glance to be a freak accident, such incidents are actually more common than you might expect. In recent years, there have been dozens of cases of deaths on party buses across the United States, and many of these accidents have involved people falling out of the buses.
There was even one case in Los Angeles in 2013 which was strikingly similar to that of Larsen, with a passenger falling out the doors of a party bus while changing the volume of the music. This accident resulted not only in a personal injury wrongful death lawsuit, but in criminal charges as well.
Will the death of James Larsen result in a similar outcome? It’s too early to say. The Illinois Department of Transportation is investigating the bus, to see whether there was any mechanical failure.
The bus, which was the property of Select Limousine Service, had passed a safety inspection only a few weeks before the crash. However, the driver of the bus lacked a valid medical card and a passenger endorsement on his commercial driver’s license, and Select Limousine Service was reported to not be in good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State (although this was apparently for a minor tax filing issue).
Nonetheless, the investigation will continue. And in the meantime, James Larsen’s mother Kimberly has a very important message for passengers of party buses: “These buses are not safe.”
If a rental vehicle’s doors are defective, is the rental company liable if an accident occurs because of it?
Party buses, like other types of buses, are considered “common carriers” under the law, a distinction that includes other types of mass transportation such as planes and cruise ships. Common carriers have a strict legal obligation to protect the safety of their passengers, and to ensure that all safety features are up to date and functional.
Party bus owners must regularly inspect their buses, including the mechanisms by which the doors of the bus open and close, and fix any flaws in these mechanisms. They must also ensure that the buses are in line with federal and state safety regulations. If there are any dangers that remain present in the bus, then the owner must at least notify passengers that these dangers exist.
However, lawsuits against party bus rental companies are not foolproof. The plaintiff must prove negligence in court, which means that they must show that the rental company had some duty and breached that duty, leading to the plaintiff suffering an injury.
If an accident happened on the party bus, but it was entirely the fault of the passenger, then the owner of the bus would not be liable. Similarly, if the passenger came to some harm through an act of nature, such as poor weather conditions, or through robbery or other third-party criminal activity, then the rental company would not be liable if they had taken reasonable precautions to avoid the danger.