Corinne Bardessono and Belen Campos were riding in a Ford E350 15-passenger van when it hit black ice on Highway 395 near Ritzville, Washington. The van rolled over and 15-year old Corinne and 17-year old Belen were both killed. The two girls were classmates at Prosser High School and traveling to Cheney to tour Eastern Washington University.
Initially, their deaths appeared to be a tragic, unpreventable accident. But both families place the blame squarely on the 15-passenger Ford F-350 van the girls were riding in. The Bardessonos filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Spokane Superior Court. The lawsuit claims Ford knew its E350 van was defective in design and unreasonably dangerous because of its instability and tendency to roll over.
“Our hope is for greater awareness, especially for schools, summer camps and day care providers, to use vehicles safer for children and not to put them in Ford 15-passenger vans,” said the Bardessono’s attorney.
The large vans are often seen with church names emblazoned on the side and filled with kids headed to or coming home from summer camp. In more than 80 percent of single-vehicle accidents that resulted in a fatality, the vans rolled over. Their high center of gravity makes them unstable at high speeds, especially when carrying more than 10 occupants, or driven with improperly inflated tires. Failure to use available seat belts is another factor that contributes to the injuries and deaths associated with this vehicle.
“There have been over 1,500 deadly accidents in 15-passenger vans. These vans have an 80% rollover rate in fatal crashes,” Bardessono noted. “The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued three warnings against 15-passenger vans, first in 2001, again in 2002, and recently in June 2004.
“NHTSA recommends that pre-school and school-aged children should not be transported in these vehicles due to safety concerns,” said Bardessono. The family has sent letters to more than 2,163 Washington schools, 211 state and local police departments, and 137 rental car offices statewide to warn them against the use of such vans for transporting students.
“This effort is to help make sure that no school students are ever illegally transported in these vans. School buses are hundreds of times safer, and the law requires them for the transport of school children. With the help of Washington school district officials, police and others with power to help enforce the laws, we can ensure that no more Washington children have to die in these large passenger vans,” pleaded Tim Bardessono.
Since 2001, the NHTSA has warned that 15-passenger vans pose a serious rollover risk. The School Bus Information Council has also issued multiple warnings. Federal law now prohibits the sale of these vans for school-related transportation involving children of high school age or younger. Regrettably, this prohibition does not apply to college students or other passengers.
While lawsuits like the Bardessono lawsuit and the lawsuits we have filed against Ford will not bring loved ones back, they serve to alert the general public about the dangers of Ford 15 passenger van rollovers. We also hope that the lawsuit costs help pursued automakers to stop manufacturing these vehicles or at least redesign them to be safer and more crashworthy.
Our sincerest condolences go out to the parents of Corinne Bardessono and Belen Campos for their devastating loss.