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Another dangerous company, another serious bus accident – 52 injured in CA

Written by Steve Gursten Posted October 1st, 2013

Despite numerous safety violations and an “alert status” from the FMCSA, Da Zhen bus company was rated as “satisfactory” before the serious crash

Da Zhen bus company accident

I recently came across this story about a horrible bus accident which occurred in California, according to NBC, “Company in SoCal Freeway Bus Crash Has Safety Violations.” The bus, operated by a company called Da Zhen, was headed toward a casino in southern California when it collided with another car, veered off the shoulder and rolled off of the freeway.

In all, 52 people were hurt in the Da Zhen bus crash. Seven passengers had to be airlifted to hospitals. Thankfully, nobody was killed. The bus driver was ticketed for making an unsafe lane change.

Accounts at the scene indicated that the bus driver improperly changed lanes and collided with a much smaller personal vehicle, causing the crash.

Da Zhen was an unsafe bus company.  In fact, it it arguably should never have been operating a commercial bus operation at the time.  Da Zhen had already been on “alert status” – an unsafe rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Alert status means that the bus company has been flagged for a poor safety record and is subject to more frequent surprise inspections. This status occurs when performance falls below the levels on at least one of the CSA behavior analysis measures — the BASIC scores.

When a bus company or truck company fails to maintain a compliant BASIC score, the FMCSA issues a warning letter to the company, putting them on notice that they are subject to more stringent inspection.  But this is where the FMCSA could be more proactive.  An alert status does not lower a bus company’s FMCSA rating — it only subjects the bus company to more frequent inspections.

Despite being flagged with the alert status, Da Zhen was ranked “satisfactory” by the FMCSA — the highest safety rating possible. This is puzzling in light of the fact that in the past year, over the course of 28 inspections, Da Zhen was found to have 25 violations of federal regulations. These 25 violations were detected across 11 of the 28 inspections.

Two of these violations resulted in Da Zhen’s buses being put immediately out of service. Remember, the FMCSA has the power to immediately put a bus company, an individual bus, or even a bus driver, out of service for particular dangerous  violations. During these inspections, one of the bus company’s drivers was also cited for falsely reporting his record of duty status — in other words, for falsifying his driving logs.

Da Zhen’s safety record was bad enough that it placed them in the bottom half of all bus carriers in the country.

The question that I ask myself is: How on earth was this company ranked “satisfactory?”

This crash is reminiscent of a fatal California crash involving Scapadas Magicas bus company, which occurred in February 2013.

These bus accidents are frustrating, and saddening, because the FMCSA, whose job it is to protect passengers on motor coaches, knew that these bus companies were dangerous but continued to give them “satisfactory” ratings!

And we see this repeated throughout the country, time and time again.  We wrote about this Kentucky bus crash that left six people dead. This crash was even more outrageous as the company in question had accumulated 17 traffic violations in a two year span. And that’s only traffic violations.  It does not include violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

You do not have to be an attorney litigating these bus accident cases throughout the country to see the theme that emerges here: The FMCSA is knowingly letting dangerous bus companies operate, putting innocent passengers and other motorists on the road at risk.

I understand the defense arguments that lawyers who defend these cases make: That ranking bus companies in terms of safety is a zero sum game. Even among the safest bus companies, some company by definition has to be the least safe. So the fact that Da Zhen was in the bottom half of safest carriers in the country is not necessarily indicative of the company being particularly unsafe, they argue.

However, 25 safety violations detected in 11 of 28 inspections, and 2 buses put out of service, is unacceptable. This company should not have been operating in the first place. And the literature is clear that a history of violations and bus accidents is a strong predictor of the likelihood of being involved in future crashes.

Bad bus companies like Da Zhen have a disturbing pattern of sweeping aside safety violations and continuing to operate. As an attorney who litigates bus accident cases,  the bus company’s negligent hiring, training, supervision, and maintenance practices, are all factors I look for in legal discovery.  When the FMCSA refuses to act, sometimes it is only the attorneys who are litigating these cases after someone was hurt or killed that holds these bus companies truly accountable.

Still, the fact remains that this crash, and the others highlighted here, should not (and would not) have happened at all if the FMCSA had done its job in a more forceful and proactive manner to protect the public.

How many more people have to be hurt or killed in bus accidents before the FMCSA realizes that it cannot keep finding serious safety violations, putting buses out of service because they are too unsafe to drive, yet giving these bad bus companies “satisfactory” ratings until they injure or kill someone?

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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