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Summary judgment possible in Kansas woman’s wrongful death case

Determining fault is a complex job in a Pittsburg commercial vehicle accident, because responsibility can be spread over a number of defendants. A bus or truck may be driven by one person and employed by a company, a business which may or may not own the vehicle. A mechanical problem can stretch blame all the way back to the vehicle designer or manufacturer.

A Kansas woman wants an out-of-state transit agency to pay damages for a 2012 fatal accident. The plaintiff's 29-year-old daughter was struck and killed by a bus belonging to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The claim alleges RFTA knowingly hired a bus driver with multiple speeding convictions and negligently retained the woman, even after she was involved in multiple on and off-duty traffic accidents.

RFTA has asked a judge to issue a summary judgment. Company officials believe the driver was not at fault when the bus crashed into the woman, as the accident victim walked in a bus lane. The transit agency argued the woman was wearing dark clothes and was heavily intoxicated, with an extremely high blood alcohol level of 0.30 percent.

Other lawsuits against the transit company could be forthcoming over a second crash in October. Eleven people were injured when an RFTA bus flipped. The driver lost control after swerving to avoid a collision with another vehicle.

RFTA officials feel the company's accident record is not out of line, considering it's the country's biggest rural transit agency. Since 2011, RFTA drivers have been in over 100 crashes annually. Officials said most of the accidents were not blamed on their drivers.

Civil negligence is not dependent on whether a driver is charged with a crime or even cited for a traffic infraction. A jury will award damages when a defendant's actions are careless, even if they aren't criminal, as long as the negligence caused a plaintiff's injury and loss.

Source: Aspen Daily News, "RFTA safety record under close scrutiny" Chad Abraham, Feb. 18, 2014

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