A night of reverie turned to tragedy when a bridal party's stretch limousine burst into flames. The bride was killed in the limo fire, along with four of her friends.
The limousine's driver was unhurt, and four other passengers who survived were treated for burns and smoke inhalation, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Investigators still aren't sure what caused the limo fire Saturday night. While victims and relatives of the bride who died may be considering wrongful-death or personal-injury lawsuits, the limo company could potentially claim some valid defenses.
Wrongful Death and Personal Injury
A wrongful death suit can be filed when someone dies because of the negligence or misconduct of another party. Immediate family members can seek financial compensation to help them cope with their loss.
In the case of the deadly limo fire, in order to bring a successful wrongful death claim, relatives of the bride will likely need to prove that that her death was caused by the limo company's negligence, or with the intent to cause harm.
Surviving victims could also potentially sue the limo company to cover the costs of their medical bills and emotional injuries. To do so, they would probably have to argue that their injuries directly resulted from the limo company's negligence.
In addition, escaping from a fiery car and watching your friends burn to death is no doubt a traumatic event. That's why the survivors may also stand a good chance of winning on a negligence-based emotional distress claim.
To combat the potential negligence-based lawsuits, the limo company may try to claim some defenses. To be successful, the company will likely need to show that it didn't owe a duty of care to the victims, that it exercised reasonable care, and that it didn't directly cause the victims' damages.
Limo Stop Inc. of San Jose, which owned the limo in question, has an up-to-date and valid license, reports the Chronicle.
But it's unclear whether the driver owed his passengers a duty to help them out of the burning limo. If a lawsuit is filed, a jury may potentially have to deicde whether the driver acted as a reasonable person under the circumstances. If the jury doesn't think he acted reasonably, the company could be on the hook because a driver is generally seen as an agent for his employer.
Other important factors could include the passengers' own actions, whether they signed liability waivers, and potential issues with the up-keep of the limo. If the limo hadn't been properly maintained, for example, then the deadly fire could spell negligence and possibly even recklessness.
But if the limo company did everything it could to keep its vehicle in a safe condition and to comply with safety standards, then jurors could find that the company wasn't negligent. Instead, the jury may just chalk it up to an incredibly sad freak accident.