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Jury finds tour bus company primarily liable for teen's death

When a teen exercises bad judgment and dies as a result, who is responsible—the teenager or the adults who either ignored his or her behavior or contributed to it?

According to one California jury, it's the adults who should bear the brunt of the blame. The jury gave the family of a 16-year-victim a $26 million dollar settlement for a wrongful death claim.

The teen died after hitting his head on an overpass as he stood on the top level of an open-air tour bus. The bus was cruising down the highway, music blaring, while a group of teenage friends danced up top and drank the vodka supplied by the birthday girl's mother. The four adults on board, including the birthday girl's parents, the bus driver and the company tour guide, stayed down on the bus's bottom level.

Despite several near-misses with other overpasses, the bus driver continued down the highway. He testified that he believed his sole responsibility was to drive, not to chaperone the riders, so he never told them to sit down. He wasn't even aware that there were seat belts on the top level of the bus. The tour guide testified he believed that safety was the bus driver's responsibility, not his.

The bus company claimed that neither employee was responsible because the birthday girl's parents supplied alcohol to the teens and the teens -- including the victim -- drank it. The birthday girl's parents blamed the bus company for not giving any safety instructions, providing music and heading out onto the freeway, essentially encouraging the teens to get up and dance.

The jury did assign the victim 5 percent of the blame for his own death, but held the bus company 70 percent at fault and the birthday girl's parents 25 percent at fault. The bus company is vicariously liable for the negligent actions of its driver and tour guide, so it will have to pay the majority of the claim.

What may have cemented the fate of the bus company was testimony from a woman who was injured while standing on the upper deck of another of its buses, at another party, nine months before the fatal accident. The bus company did nothing in the following months to improve safety for its passengers.

If you've suffered catastrophic injuries or a close family member has died as a result of someone's negligence, an attorney can providing you with your legal options for compensation.

Source: Daily Breeze, "Jury assigns blame, awards $26 million in fatal injury of Manhattan Beach teen on tour bus," Larry Altman, Dec. 04, 2016

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