In 2013, a bus from the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville crashed on Interstate 40, killing six members of the parish. In addition, a semi-truck driver and another individual in an SUV that became involved in the accident were also fatally injured. The suits for wrongful death were filed in an Iredell County court, along with 12 personal injury claims by survivors. According to attorneys on both side of the litigation, a settlement was recently agreed to by the parties with undisclosed terms.
The accident occurred as the group was coming back from the annual Fall Jubilee event at the Gatlinburg Convention Center in Tennessee. The bus was a 1997 Metrotrans Europa Motorcoach model, which was owned by the church. Investigators found that a front tire failure had sent the vehicle spinning out of control. The defendant was the Hankook Tire Co. Ltd., a New Jersey-based manufacturer, who was alleged to have manufactured and designed a “negligent and defective” product that did not satisfy reasonable safety expectations.
Investigators think that possibly something had struck the tire prior to the blowout that may have weakened it. The set of tires had been purchased just over five years prior to the accident. Hankook attorneys attempted to place responsibility in the incident on the driver of the bus and church member, Randolph “Randy” Morrison. Morrison’s wife was among those fatally injured in the crash and was included in this civil action. Five individuals were ejected from the vehicle during the crash.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs contended that the defective tire was the lone cause for the accident. They explained that there was no evidence that the bus struck any other objects prior to the accident. Sergeant Bill Miller of the Tennessee Highway Patrol told reporters at the scene that the on-site investigation was thorough and that they “considered every possible scenario”.
Hankook has grown to become a major supplier in the industry with production of 99 million tires in 2016 and annual sales internationally that are well into the billions. The suit further accused Hankook of a failure to warn those who purchased these tires of “dangerous characteristics” that existed, of which the company was aware of. The damages included major medical costs for injuries and ongoing costs associated with the event. The wrongful death suits asserted that just prior to their deaths, the deceased experienced “shock, fright and terror”. The plaintiff attorneys said that many of the survivors should now have some degree of closure regarding the tragedy.
The plaintiffs at the time of the settlement were seeking a default judgment in the case based on the defendant’s “concealment of crucial evidence” for approximately a period of two years. On two occasions during the three-years of litigation, Hankook attempted to have the case moved to a federal court. A plaintiff motion resulted in the case remaining in the Iredell County venue where the matter was ultimately resolved.