The approach of Hurricane Rita prompted a mass evacuation of the Houston area in September 2005. Part of the evacuation were elderly patients from a nursing home facility in Bellaire, Texas. The elderly patients were being transported in MCI Model EL3 bus. During the course of the long trip to Dallas, the vehicle got a flat tire. The flat was changed by K&S Tire. The driver, Juan Robles, restarted the journey but was flagged down by a motorist to tell him that the rear right tag axle assembly of the bus was glowing red hot. Robles pulled to the side of the road. The heat generated by the locked up metal parts of the tag axle assembly caused the tire to catch on fire. The smoke from the tire fire quickly entered into the cabin of the bus where the elderly passengers were seated. The smoke from the tire fire severely hampered rescue efforts. The fire entered the cabin of the coach and caused 23 fatalities.
Families of the deceased residents and injured survivors filed suit against several entities over the course of the litigation. The litigation was consolidated in Hidalgo County, Texas and the Honorable Rose Reyna was appointed the MDL judge. The families were represented by a consortium of attorneys.
In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined the probable cause of the accident was insufficient lubrication of a rear axle, which overheated and caused a fire in the wheel well that quickly filled the 1998 bus with flames and heavy smoke. The NTSB investigation presumed that the lack of lubrication was due to poor maintenance.
By agreement of the parties, our case was given the first trial setting in September 2009.
After years of litigation, after reviewing several hundred thousand documents and more than 200 depositions, settlements totaling $80 million dollars have been reached for the families of those victims of the tragedy. Companies that settled include: Motor Coach Industries (MCI), the bus manufacturer; ArvinMeritor Inc., the designer of the axle and rear wheel assembly; SKF Industries, a component maker; Global Charter, which was operating as the bus broker, The Bus Bank; Global Limo, the bus operator; Valley Volvo, which serviced the bus shortly before the trip to Houston; K&S Towing, which changed a tire in the wheel area where the fire began, just hours before it erupted.
The firm case is still set for trial on September 14, 2009 against the remaining defendants.