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Bus-crash victims suing Oregon, tour company
A year after a Dec. 30 tour-bus crash killed nine on an icy stretch of Oregon’s Interstate 84, lawsuits against British Columbia-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel are still pending.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Look Before You Book
The FMCSA encourages consumers to run some of their own checks on bus companies via their Look Before You Book website. The FMCSA’s passenger carrier search lists the insurance-policy coverage of bus companies that cross state or country lines, as well as recent violations and the date of its last compliance check.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
A year after Eun Sook Uhm, of Lynnwood, was pulled from a tour bus that crashed on an icy stretch of Interstate 84 in Oregon, the 75-year-old can stand for only 20 minutes at a time. And that’s only if she’s on heavy painkillers.
Although badly injured, Eun Sook is lucky compared with the nine people who died and some of the 37 others injured Dec. 30 when a Vancouver, B.C.-bound bus plunged 200 feet into a ravine.
In addition to living to see her family again, she has gotten help from her supplemental insurance and a son to pay for months of surgeries and treatments for her crushed rib cage, vertebrae and shoulder bones. It’s a luxury several other seriously injured survivors haven’t had, said Eun Sook’s son, Dan Uhm.
Eun Sook and more than 35 other plaintiffs are suing the company that operated the bus, British Columbia-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel, in hopes they’ll receive more financial help from the company’s insurance policy, said one of her attorneys, Joe Grube.
A group of 12 victims from Canada and South Korea filed a lawsuit last week against the company and the state of Oregon, seeking $700 million, claiming the state’s Transportation Department could have set up a better guardrail and icy-road warning signs.
Dan Uhm said Mi Joo’s policy with the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC) does not cover the cost of his mother being airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and the months of surgery and recovery that followed. His mother didn’t come home from the hospital until the middle of this year and couldn’t walk with a walker until October.
Dan Uhm says medical costs similar to his mother’s have created larger financial struggles for other plaintiffs he has spoken with. “The ways they’re planning on taking care of the medical bills are ranging from bankruptcy to hoping they’ll win the lottery with the lawsuit,” he said.
The lawsuits’ plaintiffs as well as federal transportation officials have accused Mi Joo Tour & Travel of violating several federal safety regulations including one limiting driver work hours. Because of those violations, the company cannot operate in the United States or Canada until federal authorities consider the company’s safety issues resolved. Lawyers for Mi Joo Tour & Travel have maintained that black ice was responsible for the crash.
The Oregon State Police’s full investigation report for the crash has not been released. Lt. Gregg Hastings says it will not be until Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus decides whether to press charges against any party.
Those with Seattle-area ties who died in the crash were Dale William Osborn, 57, of Spanaway; Yong Ho Lee, 75, of Lynnwood; Seattle Pacific University student Richard Sohn, 19; Chun Ho Bahn, 63, of Bothell; and South Korean couple Oun Hong Jung, 67, and Joong Wha Kim, 63, who had stayed with relatives in Bothell. Also killed were an 11-year-old girl, Youmin Kim, and Ae Ja Kim, 61, both of South Korea; and Seokmin Moon, 55, of Maple Ridge, B.C.
Citing the Oregon crash as one of four bus crashes that have killed 25 people over the past year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended in November that the Department of Transportation audit the agency responsible for inspecting the safety of commercial bus companies that cross state lines or national borders,
A month later, that agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), announced the results of its eight-month-long “Operation Quick Strike,” which ramped up inspection rates and shut down 52 companies nationwide. Those companies included one based in British Columbia, FTS Forest Transport Services LTD, but none in Washington or Oregon.
“While FMCSA deserves recognition for putting bad operators out of business, they need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a November release.
“Our investigators found, that in many cases, the poor performing company was on FMCSA’s radar for violations but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.