A Texas Court of Appeals has upheld a $9.3 million verdict against the Choctaw Nation over a 2013 charter bus crash that killed two passengers on the George Bush Turnpike in Dallas.
The ruling was made by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 5th District in Texas. The panel dismissed the tribe’s appeal of a 2016 verdict reached in Dallas County Court in which the tribe was held liable for the deaths of two elderly women.
The bus had been contracted to bring customers to the tribe’s casino in Durant.
“The appellate court was correct in affirming the jury’s verdict in this horrifying crash,” said Frank Branson, an attorney who represents the estate and children of one of the victims. “This jury carefully listened to all of the testimony and deliberated long and hard to reach its decision.”
“Casino operators cannot escape responsibility when they negotiate bus contracts based on the absolute lowest bid without considering the safety of their passengers,” he said.
The crash happened in Irving, Texas and the tribe tried to argue that tour group organizer Sue Taylor was not a tribal employee. She also had signed an agreement with the tribe indicating she would not distract the driver.
But the Dallas county verdict indicated she had distracted the driver, causing the crash on April 11, 2013. She reportedly argued with the driver about whether to drive on the turnpike. The jury concluded the argument led to the crash and it found the tribe, the driver and the Cardinal bus company to be liable.
“Upon viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict,” wrote Justice Jason Boatright, “we conclude that more than a scintilla supports a finding that Taylor actively participated in Rieve’s negligence by affirmatively distracting him, thereby causing him to crash the bus.”
A tribal attorney indicated the tribe is considering its options.