The parents of this children separately sued a myriad of defendants in state court, including the manufacturer and retailer of the bus and its brakes. The families alleged that, among other failures, the brakes on the bus were defective and this was a proximate cause of the crash. The company that sold the bus was originally a party to each of these actions, but was later not named in amended complaints.
The cases were consolidated, went to trial and jurors found in favor of defendants. Later, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the bus retailer in federal court. However, the district court granted defense motion to dismiss on grounds the claim was prohibited based on a legal principle known as res judicata, which is claim preclusion. Plaintiffs appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Appellate District affirmed on the alternative grounds of collateral estoppel, which is a type of issue preclusion.
Essentially, the court decided that the issue of the crash’s proximate cause was already determined not to be faulty brakes. So to argue that same point against a different defendant in a different court would be improper.
According to court records in A.H. v. Midwest Bus Sales, the school bus slammed into the pickup truck as the bus sped through the intersection at the bottom of a hill. The bus driver reported the brakes would not work as she careened down the hill, so she had to swerve to avoid vehicles in the intersection. Unfortunately, she still crashed into the truck.
Several students were injured, and a month later, plaintiffs filed their lawsuits.
Plaintiffs alleged strict liability for selling defective auto slack adjusters (a part of the brake system), failure to warn those pieces were unreasonably dangerous, selling a defective bus and failing to warn the buyers that manual adjustment of these pieces was hazardous.
Defendants in that case, however, asserted the bus driver was at-fault due to pedal misapplication. That is, she thought she was pressing on the brake when in fact she was pressing on the accelerator.
The case went to trial and jurors found in favor of defendants on all claims.
That was in 2014.
The following year, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the retailer, alleging it had negligently inspected the bus and was aware of the danger of manual adjustment of these brake system pieces and yet failed to warn the school district about that.
Defendants argued the case was barred based on res judicata, but plaintiff argued that only barred the same claim against the same party.
District court granted defense motion. The appeals court affirmed the decision, but based it instead on the principle of collateral estoppel, which prohibits plaintiffs from litigating the same issue multiple times. The appeals court noted that while the issue at hand dealt with alleged improper inspection, the fact was, the jury had already determined bad brakes weren’t a direct or contributing cause in that crash. So plaintiffs could not go on to assert that the retailer failed to detect the bus brake flaws when the jury had already ruled there weren’t any.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
A.H. v. Midwest Bus Sales, May 19, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth District
More Blog Entries:
Negligent Vehicle Repair At Issue In Personal Injury Lawsuit, May 13, 2016, North Carolina Bus Accident Lawsuit