Let the Suits Begin

by Jana Ritter - Published: 4/24/2014

The first lawsuit stemming from the fatal collision two weeks ago on Interstate 5 between a FedEx truck and a charter bus carrying high school students from Southern California was filed at the Los Angeles Superior Court. The negligence suit filed on behalf of Rosa Rivera, mother of Jennifer Bonilla who died in the crash, seeks $100 million in damages and names both FedEx and Silverado Stages (the bus company) as defendents.

Fence flowers

Rosa Rivera, the mother of Dorsey High School student Jennifer Bonilla, seeks $100 million in general and punitive damages. Bonilla, along with four other students, three chaperones, and the bus and truck drivers died in the crash near Orland on April 10. The FedEx driver, Timothy Paul Evans, 32, was from Elk Grove, and the driver of the Silverado Stages bus, Talalelei Lealao-Taiao, 53, was from Sacramento.

A. King Aminpour, the attorney representing Rivera, said he has been contacted by representatives of other victims’ families but has not been formally retained by them. Aminpour also said that the suit alleges that FedEx is negligent in operating its vehicles and in training and disciplining its drivers. The lawsuit states FedEx Corp. and FedEx Freight Inc. have a history of their trucks catching fire, either due to mechanical problems, driver error or improper loading of cargo, yet FedEx has taken no steps to remedy this problem.

Some witnesses reported that the FedEx truck was on fire before it crossed the median and struck the bus. FedEx spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it wasn’t an appropriate time. “At this stage, our condolences are with all the families,” she said. “We’re still working with the authorities and fully cooperating with the investigation.”

The suit also names as defendants the estate of the FedEx driver, Evans, and the bus company, Silverado Stages. The lawsuit claims the bus was not equipped with enough emergency exits and Silverado Stages was not prepared to make any comments at this time. The plaintiff’s attorney, Aminpour explained that personally naming Evans is procedurally necessary, but the intent is not to seek damages from his family. FedEx would be responsible for any monetary damages if Evans were found to have been negligent, he said.

Jonathan G. Stein, an attorney for Evans’ family, said, “At this time, we have not seen the lawsuit. We will have no comment on any pending litigation. However, we strongly believe everyone should wait until the authorities have completed their investigation before reaching any conclusions.”

Philip Aman, a San Diego attorney who has worked on previous tractor-trailer lawsuits, said plaintiffs should expect a long fight. “Even under these types of circumstances, trucking companies will fight,” he said. “Certainly, Federal Express will be analyzing everything from their own perspective with respect to what happened.”