A Sherman, Texas, emergency official stands in front of a bus that crashed while northbound on U.S. 75 August 8, 2008 in Texas. The charter bus, with 55 people aboard, ran off a highway overpass north of Dallas and crashed onto its side on a roadway below, killing 17 people. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Eleven of the companies and individuals sued by the families of victims in the 2008 Texas bus crash that killed 17 people on their way to a religious retreat have agreed to out-of-court settlements, according to a recent court order.
The order, signed by State District Judge Caroline Baker of Houston on June 13, states that settlements have been reached with the operator of the charter bus company, the company that inspected the bus before the trip and the firm that retreaded the blown-out tire that caused the crash. The financial terms were not revealed.
The settlements mean only six defendants remain in the complicated litigation that accuses multiple parties of negligence and involves more than 160 plaintiffs, including relatives of the deceased as well as those on the bus who were injured. The suits have been consolidated in court.
Fifty-five members of Houston's Vietnamese Catholic community were en route to an annual conclave in Missouri when the bus plunged over a highway bridge near Sherman, 60 miles north of Dallas, on Aug. 8, 2008.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the crash, one of the worst in U.S. history, was caused when the retreaded tire on the right front axle was punctured by an unknown object.
Although the retread itself wasn't the cause, the panel noted that the tire was affixed to the front axle illegally, that the charter operator didn't have the authority to leave Texas and that the company that inspected the bus wasn't equipped to judge whether it was road-worthy.
David Taylor, a Dallas attorney who represented the company that retreaded the tire, Henise Tire Service of Cleona, Pa., said his client admitted no responsibility by settling.
"We believe we had a case we could defend, but our client wanted to get this matter behind them," Taylor said.
Phil Sellers, the attorney for the charter operator, Angel de la Torre, declined comment. An attorney for the vehicle inspection company, 5 Minute Inspections, did not respond to phone and email messages from The Associated Press.
Baker's order requires that the settlement amounts be disclosed to the case's remaining defendants. In turn, those defendants cannot reveal the amounts to outside parties, the order states.
Mike Doyle, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said the settlements so far reflect the best financial terms that could be obtained from entities that in some cases had limited amounts of insurance.
A settlement with one of the remaining defendants, bus manufacturer Motor Coach Industries Inc., has been worked out but has yet to be finalized, Doyle said. That's because of insurance issues arising from an accident involving one of the company's buses in California, he said.
The 2002 model motor coach was one of two purchased by de la Torre from Motor Coach Industries 16 days before the accident. The blown tire was in a batch bought by Motor Coach Industries from Henise Tire Service in 2007.
Both Motor Coach Industries and de la Torre have denied placing the retread on the front axle.