HOUSTON –LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Houston attorney Mark Lanie…

HOUSTON –LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Houston attorney Mark Lanier, who in August won a $253 million verdict in the nation’s first trial over the painkiller Vioxx, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a survivor of the deadly bus explosion involving elderly residents fleeing from Hurricane Rita.

On Sept. 23, plaintiff Gloria Marie Putney and 37 other residents of Brighton Gardens of Bellaire retirement center were headed to Dallas on a bus chartered by Chicago-based Global Charter Services Ltd. As the residents neared Dallas, a fire consumed the inside of the bus and caused many residents’ oxygen tanks to explode. A total of 23 people died, making it the deadliest Texas bus crash since 1952.

“This terrible tragedy never should have happened,” says Mr. Lanier, who will donate any fees earned in this case to hurricane relief efforts. “We now know that the innocent people who boarded this bus in order to save their own lives actually were victims of a series of needless failures by practically everyone who was supposed to be helping them.”

In addition to Global Charter, which does business as The Bus Bank (www.thebusbank.com), the lawsuit names as defendants McLean, Va.-based Sunrise Senior Living Inc., owner of Brighton Gardens of Bellaire, and Juan Robles Gutierrez, the Mexican national who was hired to drive the bus.

Currently, Mr. Gutierrez, who does not have a Texas driver’s license, is being held by federal immigration authorities in McAllen, Tex. Mr. Gutierrez’ employer, Pharr, Texas-based Global Limo Inc., was warned by state officials about violating safety and maintenance regulations in 2002.

The Internet site for Global Charter, operator of The Bus Bank, says the company has “a very rigorous bus operator certification process that reviews an operator’s insurance, safety program, driver certification and customer feedback.” Mr. Lanier says those assurances were false.

“This ‘certification process’ was nothing more than a pass through,” Mr. Lanier says. “If their certification actually was ‘rigorous’, then why would they rely on a bus operator with a history of safety problems?”

The lawsuit, Gloria Marie Putney v. Global Charter Services Ltd., et al., No. C-2373-05-B, is filed in Hidalgo County’s 93rd District Court.

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