Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Sep. 12, 2013, 9:26am

A tire company blamed for providing faulty tires in a deadly Megabus crash last year near Litchfield is denying liability in a St. Clair County lawsuit.

Bridgestone America’s Tire Operations, or BATO, denied it is at fault for the bus crash near Litchfield that killed one and left others injured, according to the company's Sept. 5 answer.

Maurine Stellhorn and Francisco Miranda filed the lawsuit against Megabus, Coach Leasing, Preston L. Taylor and BATO on May 30.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were riding in a 2011 Van Hool double-decker bus on Aug. 2, 2012, southbound on I-55 near mile marker 57. The bus allegedly left the road and collided with a concrete bridge support pillar after experiencing an unexpected front tire blowout while traveling along the interstate.

According to media reports, Taylor, who was driving the bus, was a 25-year-old rookie whose trainer had accompanied him on the route.

According to the complaint, the tires on the bus had inadequate bonding, inadequate belt edge protection, a propensity for tread separation, lacked adequate warnings, were improperly tested and were prone to an unreasonable risk of puncture and deflation.

BATO denies all allegations.

The company filed affirmative defenses on Sept. 5 stating that venue is improper. It argues that none of the defendants reside in St. Clair County and the incident subject to the complaint occurred in Montgomery County. The company also accuses the plaintiffs of failing to mitigate any physical, psychological, emotional, and pecuniary damages allegedly sustained as a result of the accident.

According to the company's answer, the plaintiffs failed to seek appropriate treatment in a timely manner, failed to follow their medical care providers’ advice and instructions and failed to take such action to mitigate their damages as may be disclosed during the course of discovery.

Stellhorn claims she suffered serious injuries to her head, face, jaw, arms, wrists, hands, legs, knees, ankles and torso. Miranda claims he suffered permanent injuries to his head, face, spine, neck, back, shoulders, brain and torso.

Both plaintiffs claim they have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder since the crash.

Coach Leasing, Inc. was also named a defendant in the case because it owned the leased bus at the time of the accident. On Aug. 22, Coach Leasing filed a motion to dismiss Counts III and VII of the complaint, which are the sections directed against Coach Leasing.

Coach Leasing argues it just owned the motor coach, which was leased under an Equipment Lease Agreement, which limits the liability of the owner for harms caused by those vehicles during the leasing period, the motion states.

“The Equipment Leasing Agreement makes clear that while retaining legal title to the vehicles, Coach Leasing did not retain responsibility for the vehicles during the four year lease period. To the contrary, the Lease Agreement required Megabus to do such things as procure insurance, pay monthly rents and any applicable use taxes, and be responsible for maintenance and repairs of the lease vehicles,” the motion states,

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot has scheduled a motion hearing for Sept. 17 at 9:30 a.m. and a mandatory status conference for Oct. 14 at 9 a.m.

The plaintiffs seek a judgment of more than $600,000.

Kevin A. Sullivan of Sauter Sullivan in St. Louis is representing Stellhorn and Miranda.

John W. Patton, Jr., John. A Ouska, and C. Zachary Vaughn of Patton & Ryan LLC in Chicago is representing Coach Leasing, Inc.

John P. Cunningham of Brown & James, P.C. in Belleville; and Colin P. Smith, Thomas R. Woodrow and Suzanne E. Rollier of Holland & Knight LLP in Chicago represent Bridgestone America’s Tire Operations, LLC.

St. Clair Circuit Court case number 13-L-269

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Holland & Knight
131 S Dearborn St
Chicago, IL 60603

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