The intersection was dark on a rural Florida road where a van full of parishioners were on their way home to Fort Pierce after attending a church revival in Fort Myers. It was just after midnight, and there were no lights on that stretch of highway in Glades County. That’s where the driver apparently missed a stop sign, crossed a four-lane highway and then plunged into a shallow ditch filled with water.

vanAuthorities today are reporting eight people were killed and 10 others, including a 4-year-old child, were injured. Two of the adult survivors are listed in critical condition.

Although the victims have not yet been formally identified, a few relatives who gathered at the crash site told a reporter one of those killed was a father of four, and another was a grandmother who arrived from Haiti six years ago.

The church pastor called it “a very difficult day for us.”

The gravity of such a loss is difficult to grasp in the immediate aftermath. Our Fort Myers van accident lawyers know that while this is one of the worst single-vehicle accidents in the state’s history, crashes involving 15-passenger vans are all too common, increasing especially during the height of the spring and summer travel seasons.

The van is rated for 15 passengers, but there were 18 people inside. Overloading common problem. These vehicles are often used for transport by school sports teams, senior groups and church members. They are utilized because they  are large, convenient and don’t require a commercial license to operate.

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued numerous warnings relating to 15-passenger vans, which are at heightened risk of rollover – especially the more passengers are inside. Research conducted by regulators in 2014 indicated the risk of a single vehicle crash with these vans is three times higher when there are 10 or more people inside, as opposed to when there are less than five. What’s more, the risk of death in 15-passenger vans spiked by 20 percent last year, and deaths in rollovers increased by 73 percent.

Today, all newly-manufactured 15-passenger vans are equipped with electronic stability control systems that help the vehicle stabilize, even when there are a large number of passengers. However, older models don’t come equipped with these features, which means drivers are more likely to lose control if the vehicle enters a skid.

Drivers with experience are not required by law, but they are recommended by safety officials, given that the vans handle much differently than smaller vehicles, particularly for emergency maneuvers.

Another major risk factor that’s been identified on these vans are the tires. The NHTSA indicates that one-third of all 15-passenger vans on the road have at least one “significantly underinflated” tire. The tires wear-and-tear faster than on smaller vehicles, but they often aren’t properly maintained, inspected or replaced. This would be the responsibility of both the van owner and operator before each and every trip – especially when going on a longer trek out-of-town.

The NHTSA has issued a dozen consumer advisories relating to 15-passenger van dangers since 2001.

Although some of the issues directly relate to owner/operator error, our experienced legal team also recognizes there may be a possibility the manufacturer or distributor of the vehicle could be liable as well. It will depend on the exact cause of the crash, which is still under investigation by local authorities.

Families who have endured such devastating losses are understandably beside themselves. However, it’s imperative to immediately contact legal counsel to explore options for compensation from insurance companies and other entities for coverage of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Crash of Church Van Kills 8 in Rural Florida, March 30, 2015, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

Skaperdas v. County Cas. Ins. Co. – Car Insurance Agent Owes Duty of Care, March 28, 2015, Fort Myers Van Accident Lawyer Blog