Dozens of people and first responders assist victims of a tourist bus crash south of Merritt in 2014.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that neither the tour operator nor the manufacturer of the bus was responsible for a serious accident on the Coquihalla Highway in the summer of 2014 that seriously injured dozens of people. But the bus driver and the company owning the bus have already admitted their responsibility.
In a ruling on Thursday, Judge Elliot Myers dismissed claims against a number of defendants in a sweeping lawsuit stemming from the Aug. 28, 2014, overturning of a bus on the Coquihalla Highway that injured all 55 passengers on board, as well as than the driver. Several people were seriously injured, as a number of people were ejected from the bus during the accident.
The bus tour, organized by CanAm Super Vacation Inc., started in Richmond several days before the crash and headed east through Banff, Jasper and Golden National Park. On the last day of the tour, the bus traveled from Golden to Kamloops, where they stopped for lunch, before continuing west along Coquihalla.
Road conditions were clear and dry that afternoon, but about 22 kilometers south of Merritt, the driver failed to negotiate a right turn and the bus hit the shoulder of the median . When the driver attempted to turn sharply to the right to complete the turn, the bus overturned and slid sideways, eventually coming to rest upright.
The 55 passengers filed lawsuits against a number of defendants, but due to the scale of the case, Judge Myers ordered two of the lawsuits to act as “indicator” cases – one to represent those who have thrown from the bus in the accident and one to represent those who remained on the bus.
The bus driver, Brian Spittal, admitted responsibility on the grounds that he had suffered a momentary lack of attention. Spittal was airlifted with a large bump on his head and fractured ribs. He “entered and lost consciousness”.
Western Bus Lines admitted liability as they are “indirectly liable” for Spittal’s negligence, given that he was the company’s employee.
But in the lawsuit, plaintiffs allege Spittal fell asleep at the wheel and that, rather than a lack of attention, caused the accident. The distinction is important here because, as Judge Myers wrote in his decision, “the allegation of fatigue is…is the ‘hook’ to establish the liability of defendants other than Western and Prévost [the bus manufacturer].”
There is no evidence that speed played a role in the crash.
The plaintiffs claimed that if Spittal had fallen asleep at the wheel, CanAm Super Vacation should also be held liable, for “failing to exercise care” when selecting Western Bus Lines, as they had no training in place that would adequately identify driver fatigue. They also argued that tour guide Mark Yu should be responsible because he failed to recognize signs of Spittal’s alleged fatigue.
Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that the bus manufacturer Prévost was negligent by not building the bus with seat belts and by using tempered glass instead of laminated glass.
But Judge Myers ultimately dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims against CanAm and Prévost. He said the plaintiffs were unable to prove on a balance of probabilities that Spittal fell asleep at the wheel and that the accident could just as easily have been caused by inattention.
Additionally, he decided that the manufacture of the bus in 1998 met all industry and regulatory standards, including the absence of seat belts.
“The plaintiffs have not shown that these standards were negligent or unreasonable or that any other industry standard existed in North America,” he wrote in his decision. “Thus, Prévost was not negligent in manufacturing the coach in 1998 without seat belts. Nor did the lack of seat belts make the bus unreasonably safe or faulty.
Seat belts became mandatory on tour buses in Canada from September 2020.
Moreover, the industry standard for buses at the time of manufacture was to use tempered glass, and Prévost was not negligent in following this standard.
“I further conclude – as plaintiffs conceded – that the laminated glass would not have survived the crash intact and would have prevented ejection. It might even have caused further injury,” the judge said. Myers.
The recent decision dealt only with liability issues. Damage is not believed to have been assessed for the Spittal and Western bus routes at this time.