WYANDOTTE COUNTY, Kan. - On a Saturday night at Power and Light, you’ll find party buses lined up near the Sprint Center waiting to pick up passengers partying in the popular nightlife district. However, some of those paid passengers are unknowingly riding on buses that are not in compliance with federal law.
Companies are supposed to be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety administration and carry a DOT number if they are transporting paid passengers across state lines. In addition, they must carry a $1.5 million policy if they carry less than 15 passengers and a $5 million policy if they carry more than 15 passengers.
However, some unscrupulous companies have figured out a way around the federal regulation and safety checks by insuring their buses under less expensive insurance policies like those meant for a Recreational Vehicle.
Jamie Frecks, 26, was riding on the Midnight Express party bus for a bachelorette party on May 4, 2013. As the bus crossed over into Kansas on Interstate 35, the back doors unexpectedly flew open. Frecks fell out on to the interstate and three cars struck her. She died from her injuries.
She left behind a 5-week-old girl named Emma. On behalf of Emma and the rest of Frecks’ family, attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Midnight Express Party Bus company and their owners.
Court records show that the owners of the bus removed a wheelchair lift in the bus. According to experts who testified in the case, the lift created a safety barrier between passengers and the rear doors and the defendants didn’t make any repairs that would have prevented the doors from coming unlatched while transporting passengers.
In addition, the bus was not registered with the Department of Transportation and was not carrying the proper insurance.
“They are thankful for the work you all have done, and others in the media, to expose some of the short comings in this case and that has, in turn, cast light on other party bus companies,” David Morantz, attorney for the Frecks’ family, told 41 Action News.
Morantz believes if the bus had been properly registered and insured, it would have undergone safety inspections to identify problems on the bus.
“That would have forced the company to make the bus safe, especially securing the double rear doors at the back of the bus where Jamie fell through,” Morantz said.
The Frecks family settled one part of their lawsuit with one of the corporate defendants which owned Midnight Express. In addition, a judge ordered damages totaling $6.78 million paid in a second aspect of the case.
Though they will not head to court on their wrongful death suit, attorneys for the family say they are still considering taking action against the insurance provider which issued the inadequate policy to Midnight Express causing the company to be underinsured.
Attorneys Lynn R. Johnson and David Morantz filed the suit in The District Court of Wyandotte County, Kan.
They issued the following statement about the settlement:
“The case against one of the corporate defendants has settled for an undisclosed amount. The case against the other defendants resulted in judgments of $6.78 million. Part of that amount has been satisfied from Midnight Express’ insurance coverage. We are now considering a claim against the insurance agency and the broker who did not get Midnight Express the amount of insurance required under federal trucking regulations. Jamie’s family thanks the media for respecting their privacy and for shedding light on the importance of enforcing party bus safety regulations.”
Morantz hopes the cases do send a message to party bus companies. Despite the attention Freck's death brought to the issue, many illegal party bus companies do operate in Kansas City.
“These buses need to comply with safety regulations so these incidents don't happen again,” Morantz said.
Before you hire a party bus company, make sure you check to see if their DOT number is in good standing and that they have proper insurance as well as a good safety record. You can do that by clicking here.