My previous entry about a road optical illusion stemming from a road defect got me wondering about the outcome of a horrible charter bus accident here in Atlanta a few years ago. One of the most tragic accidents in Atlanta in which a roadway defect contributed to the crash occurred in March of 2007, when a charter bus carrying a baseball team from Bluffton University plunged off the overpass onto I-75 at Northside Drive.
The bus driver, his wife, and five passengers were killed.
The final National Transportation and Safety Board report cited driver error in mistaking the HOV sign for an on-ramp but stated that “[c]ontributing to the accident driver’s route mistake was the failure of the Georgia Department of Transportation to install adequate traffic control devices to identify the separation and divergence of the Northside Drive HOV-only left exit ramp from the southbound Interstate 75 HOV through lane."
The State of Georgia paid $3 million to the crash victims in March 2009, which is the maximum per occurrence under existing state tort laws. Victims of the crash also received $5 million from the luxury coach company. On January 4, 2011, the
Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that Bluffton University's insurance policies cover those people affected by the bus accident, making available $21 million more in coverage to pay claims. The decision is significant in that the court ruling expanded the group the university's insurers must cover. Bluffton University had three insurance policies: an auto policy with Hartford, an umbrella policy issued by American Alternative, and an excess liability policy issued by Federal Insurance. American Alternative and Federal Insurance both sought declaratory judgments that their policies did not provide coverage for the Atlanta collision. Lower courts had determined that the policy did not cover the charter bus driver; bus crash victims filed appeals.
Previously, insurance policies covered a school's own vehicles; in this case, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the each policy's language coverage was extended to a rented charter bus as the university hired the bus company, and more importantly, approved the driver of the bus through arrangements made by Bluffton's baseball coach. Thus, the driver of the charter bus was an "insured" under the policy's omnibus clause.
The implication, at least in Ohio, is that schools cannot transfer or shift financial risk by hiring or contracting with an outside company for transportation of students. This ruling now allows injured crash survivors and family members of the deceased passengers to receive compensation beyond what the state of Georgia and the coach company have paid.
Sources: "Ohio Supreme Court Ruling Favors Bus Wreck Survivors," Insurance Journal, December 29, 2010.