An early-evening accident on January 13, 2015, on the southbound lanes of Florida’s Turnpike, caused serious injuries to 19 individuals. The individuals were originally from Atlanta Georgia and were traveling through Florida in route to Fort Lauderdale as part of a church group. According to Restoration Ministries’ pastor, Vincent Jones, “Our ministry is like a family. We help people with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, gang banging, prison life. We try and help them get their life straight. And that’s what we do and that’s what we were going down to Florida to do.” The accident occurred near mile marker 155 outside of Fort Pierce, Florida. All 19 individuals injured in the accident were taken to hospitals, including Lawnwood Medical Center, in the vicinity of Fort Pierce.
How Did The Rollover Accident Occur?
According to reports from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the accident occurred after the van carrying the church group suffered a tire blowout. The driver apparently lost control of the large van due to the blowout and was unable to regain control before the vehicle toppled and overturned. Pastor Jones said he knew something was wrong when he received an unexpected call from the traveling ministry. He recalled, “I heard screaming and hollering and I couldn’t understand what was going on because it was so frantic.”
Reports indicated that a medical transport helicopter was utilized to transport at least one patient for medical care. While 19 people were injured and 2 are still in intensive care, all of those injured are expected to survive the ordeal.
The Risks of 15 Passenger Vans
While the exact make and model of the church van was not immediately available, the van does appear to be a 15-passenger van. Unfortunately, the risk presented by this accident is the exact risk that federal regulators have warned motorists about. That is, these vehicles already present an increased risk of a vehicle rollover. When the number of passengers riding in the van increases, the risk of an overturned vehicle also increases. In fact, a 15-passenger van that is carrying 10 or more individuals is three times more likely to rollover than a similar vehicle carrying 5 or fewer occupants.
There are numerous reasons for the rollover risks presented by 15-passenger vans. To start with, drivers must recognize and contend with the fact that these vehicles are subject to a shifting center of gravity as people board and exit and cargo is loaded and unloaded. This can cause instability that can increase the chances of a rollover. This characteristic is exacerbated by the fact that 15-passenger vans are often driven by everyday people who are not professional drivers. Many are unaware of these risks and even if they are aware, may lack the experience and training necessary to handle the vehicle when a split-second decision is necessary. These drivers also may not own the vehicle and therefore they may assume that maintained is being handled by someone else. NHTSA estimates that 3 percent of vans of this type have, at least, one tire that is extremely underinflated. Finally, older models of 15-passenger vans generally lack electronic stability control systems. The lack of these systems can cause an inexperienced driver to lose control of the vehicle more easily should the tires slip or skid on the roadway.
Are Passenger-Carrying Transport Vehicles Regulated?
While it is still too early to say exactly which safety regulations may have applied in this instance, the short answer to whether a company falls under regulation by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is that depends upon the factors and the circumstances surrounding the vehicle’s usage. However, most passenger-carrying vehicles engaged in the interstate transportation of 9 to 15 passengers, including the driver, will face some level of regulation. Groups that receive direct compensation for their transportation services are typically subject to the most stringent regulations. While passenger-carrying vehicles that do not receive direct compensation face less stringent regulations, but there are certain regulations that still must be satisfied. These regulations can include marking the vehicle with appropriate US Department of Transportation identification, complying with commercial driver restrictions regarding mobile phone usage, maintaining an accident register and filing a motor carrier identification report.
If you have suffered a catastrophic injury in a van rollover accident or other 15-passenger van accident, contact the vehicle accident and personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm by calling (215) 246-9000. We have fought for seriously injured individuals for 34 years.