Highway Safety Investigator-in-charge Robert Accetta documents the damaged motor coach that was involved in a collission with a FedEx in Orland, CA.
Highway Safety Investigator-in-charge Robert Accetta documents the damaged motor coach that was involved in a collission with a FedEx in Orland, CA. (Photo: NTSB)

More than a dozen lawsuits filed on behalf of victims of a fatal bus crash in Northern California have been consolidated in Los Angeles, where a judge held the first hearing this month.

On April 10, a FedEx truck pulling two trailers crossed a 60-foot median on Interstate 5 near Orland, Calif., crashing into a charter bus headed to Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., and bursting into flames. Ten people died, including the drivers of both vehicles, and there were multiple injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the crash. On Monday, a coroner’s office in Glenn County, Calif., concluded that most of the victims died of asphyxiation.

More than 15 lawsuits have been filed over the crash, mostly in Los Angeles, where the majority of the 46 bus passengers lived. One case has been filed in Glenn County Superior Court.

“I anticipate there will be a number of additional cases, since all of the kids that were trapped on that bus were put through a pretty traumatic event,” said Katherine Harvey-Lee, attorney at Los Angeles-based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.

The lawsuits in Los Angeles have been consolidated before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John Wiley. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel—filling in temporarily for Wiley, who has been on temporary assignment to California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal—oversaw the first hearing on July 15. She held off ruling on many of the motions and scheduled the next hearing for Sept. 19.

The complaints allege that FedEx Corp. was negligent and that the bus operator, Silverado Stages Inc., based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., failed to provide fire suppression equipment or adequate emergency instructions.

“Against FedEx, the primary allegations are obvious from the facts: A truck should not leave its lanes of travel and go over a median,” Harvey-Lee said. As for the bus operator, she said: “It’s our understanding from the survivors that there had been no explanation or instruction given as to emergency evacuation procedures, and we know that the kids were kicking out windows to try to get out.”

Geoffrey Wells, a partner at Greene Broillet & Wheeler in Santa Monica, Calif., heard similar reports. “Once this accident occurred, it was complete pandemonium there,” he said.

His firm has requested that the litigation be coordinated in Los Angeles. On July 15, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who heads the Judicial Council of California, ordered a coordination judge in Los Angeles to decide by Aug. 25 who would hear the cases.

James Yukevich, a partner at Los Angeles-based Yukevich Cavanaugh who represents Memphis-based FedEx, and Silverado’s attorney, Anne McIntyre, a partner in the Glendale, Calif., office of Wood Smith Henning & Berman in Los Angeles, did not return calls for comment.

Soon after the accident, FedEx chief executive officer Frederick Smith issued a written statement: “It will take some time to fully understand exactly how this accident occurred and why. In the meantime, I want everyone to know that we at FedEx are committed to providing every resource necessary to assist investigators in their efforts to understand what happened.”

Contact Amanda Bronstad at abronstad@alm.com.