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Brake failure may be the cause of Houston-bound bus fire in June

On June 8, a passenger bus headed for Houston from South Florida suddenly burst into flames in Baton Rouge. The fire was completely unexpected, catching many passengers asleep with no warning of any potential hazard. It was also massive, destroying the entire bus and all of the passengers' personal property. It was extremely fortunate that no one was seriously injured.

According to reports, Tornado Bus Company, which operated the bus, has denied responsibility for any damages, and has a policy of replacing only $250 worth of personal property lost on its busses. The company says it is still investigating the accident. Meanwhile, the Louisiana State Police report indicates the likely cause of the fire was brake failure -- "excessive heating of the brakes," which could very well mean Tornado or its driver was responsible.

Two passengers recently told reporters that they lost valuables including their wallets, medications and clothes, but a month after the fire, Tornado still hasn't responded to their inquiries.

"We could have been on that bus and easily not gotten off alive," said one woman, who was traveling with her 11-year-old daughter. "Material things can be replaced and I'm just fortunate everyone got off alive but it was very terrifying," she added.

Nevertheless, the passengers want the company to be held accountable for more than a long-delayed promise of $250 each.

"It's like we're reliving everything again. I just want to cry," said the second passenger, who had been accompanying her elderly mother on the trip.

The bus company released a statement that says nothing about the Louisiana State Police's finding that brake failure could be responsible and doesn't offer any alternative explanation.

"At this time Tornado Bus Company is continuing its investigation into the cause of the fire. Once the investigation is complete Tornado Bus Company will address any issues resulting from the incident. Until then, Tornado Bus Company will move forward in completing its investigation," the statement reportedly says.

If brake failure was indeed the cause, the bus company or the driver -- or both -- might be legally responsible for the damage caused by the bus accident and fire. The company may not have properly maintained the brakes, for example. The bus may have been overloaded, which might have caused the brake system to fail.

An internal investigation is not enough. Typically, commercial carriers won't release any damaging information to potential plaintiffs, and Tornado is likely to offer the victims no more than its own policy specifies. To get additional action, plaintiffs may need to talk to an attorney or a government agency wiling advocate on their behalf.

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