Crime - Sacto 911

Greyhound faces wrongful death lawsuit in 2008 Colusa crash

Mai Lor Xiong wipes a tear as she looks at the photos of her aunt, Pia Xiong, who died from injuries sustained in a 2008 bus crash in Colusa.
Mai Lor Xiong wipes a tear as she looks at the photos of her aunt, Pia Xiong, who died from injuries sustained in a 2008 bus crash in Colusa. Sacramento Bee file

A state appeal court has reversed a Sacramento Superior Court judge’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Greyhound Lines Inc., in a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit brought on behalf of those who perished and were injured in a horrific 2008 crash of a bus traveling from Sacramento to a casino in Colusa County.

The plaintiffs allege safety defects in the motor coach, which had been built to Greyhound’s specifications but had at least two owners after Greyhound relinquished control of it.

A unanimous three-justice panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal found fatal flaws in Greyhound’s motion for summary judgment, on which Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown based the February 2013 ruling that sank the case. Specifically, the justices said, Greyhound did not address all the claims in the plaintiffs’ complaint.

Greyhound’s motion “addressed only the lack of passenger seat belts; it did not address the lack of other passenger safety restraints or the lack of adequate warnings,” the justices ruled.

The panel’s decision gives new life to the lawsuit, and the matter was sent back to Brown with directions to vacate his ruling in Greyhound’s favor and issue a new order denying the company’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims of negligence, strict liability, loss of consortium, wrongful death and survival. The panel further directed that the new order should grant Greyhound’s request to be relieved of breach-of-warranty claims.

The 12-page, unpublished opinion was authored by Associate Justice Ronald B. Robie, with the concurrences of acting Presiding Justice George Nicholson and Associate Justice William J. Murray Jr.

In the one-vehicle crash Oct. 5, 2008, 11 passengers were killed and 21 were injured, some severely, when a “gamblers’ special” careened off rural Lonestar Road between Williams and Colusa and rolled over into a drainage ditch. The bus was carrying 41 people bound for Colusa Casino Resort.

A year later, a jury found Quintin Joey Watts, a 53-year-old trainee driver, guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter. He was subsequently sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison.

The California Highway Patrol reported during the trial that the road and weather played no part in the accident and the bus was mechanically sound. Prosecutors ultimately concluded that Watts was exhausted after sleeping no more than three or four hours in the 27 hours before the accident.

Greyhound, an interstate commercial carrier, bought the bus in 1993 directly out of the factory from Illinois-based manufacturer Motor Coach Industries. A year after the purchase, Greyhound sold it to Nationsbanc Lease Investments, then leased it back and operated it as part of its fleet until 2005, when it returned the bus to Nationsbanc, breaking all connections between it and Greyhound. At the time of the crash, the bus was owned by the House of Prayer Apostolic Christian Center of Modesto and was being operated by Cobb’s Bus Service LLC of Sacramento.

Between 1993 and 2005, when Greyhound owned or leased the bus, neither Motor Coach Industries nor any other manufacturer of buses for sale in North America offered passenger seat belts as standard, optional, or retrofit equipment because design standards for the installation of seat belts had yet to be developed, according to court papers.

Greyhound focused its argument in the lower court solely on seat belts and, in ruling for the company, Brown asserted that the issue was “whether Greyhound should have installed seat belts for the passengers in the bus.”

But the appellate justices said there were other issues that the company failed to address, thus inadequately supporting its motion for summary judgment. The justices said Greyhound ignored claims that the bus lacked grip bars and air bags, and that there were no warnings posted on the bus regarding the lack of the safety devices.

“Greyhound failed to carry its initial burden ... of showing that all of plaintiffs’ theories as to why the bus was defective were without merit,” the justices declared. “Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment.”

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189