ODOT not at fault in bus crash

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 30, 2013 08:01 am

It was inevitable that the tragic bus crash that happened on Interstate 84 near Pendleton, one year ago today, would precipitate a lawsuit.

The 12 plaintiffs, 10 of whom were riding on the bus that careened off the freeway and into a ravine, killing nine people and injuring 38, might have a decent case against the tour bus operator, Mi Joo Tour & Travel Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C., and the driver, Haeng-Kyu Hwang.

(The two other plaintiffs are the estates of two passengers who died.)

But the claim of negligence against Oregon and its Department of Transportation seems to us misguided.

The plaintiffs, who are represented by Canadian attorney Scott Parks, contend the state and ODOT failed to build barriers along the freeway capable of preventing the bus from plunging into the ravine. The lawsuit also claims the state failed to properly maintain the freeway, to warn drivers of the hazards, and to require commercial vehicles to go a different way.

None of these allegations is compelling.

As we wrote in an editorial in April, after another lawsuit was filed, there is no consistency in these claims.

The plaintiffs want to blame the tour bus company and its driver for negligence for, among other things, driving too fast for the conditions, yet simultaneously blame ODOT and the state for creating those conditions.

By that logic, the government would be liable for every accident that happens on anything less than dry pavement.

Which, of course, is not logical at all.

We showed in a series of stories published last February, that the section of freeway where the bus crashed is actually safer, statistically speaking, than several other stretches of I-84 through Northeastern Oregon.

What distinguishes the bus disaster is not the condition of the road at the time, nor the stoutness of the guard rail that the vehicle plowed through.

It seems clear, rather, based not only on statistics but on the reports of other drivers who watched the accident happen, that the most significant factor was that the driver was going much too fast. So fast, in fact, that ODOT’s efforts to make the highway safe for travel were rendered moot by the obstinacy of physics.

We don’t object to the plaintiffs being compensated fairly by the company they hired to safely transport them.

But Oregon and its taxpayers bear no responsibility and should not be punished financially for the fatal mistakes of others.