Tour Bus Company to Pay $6.75 Million for Death of Chicago Woman

Bus accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm affirm that a local tour bus company recently settled with the family of a young woman who was killed when a driver struck her in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. The tour bus driver allegedly had cocaine in his system at the time of the crash.

The 26-year-old woman, Justyna Palka, was crossing at the intersection of Illinois and Colomus when the tour bus rounded the corner and fatally hit her in the evening hours of May 3, 2011. Palka was using the crosswalk at the time and had the right-of-way. She was only about five steps off the sidewalk.

The driver, 47-year-old David Soto, initially thought he had just hit the curb, though when he felt a second bump, he got out of the bus to find Palka. After he tested positive for cocaine, the driver was charged with an aggravated DUI, however, his criminal case is ongoing.

Palka’s family’s lawsuit named the tour bus company, Pontarelli Group Charter, as defendants, claiming the owners were negligent in hiring Soto, who had an illustrious history of traffic violations. In the ten years between 1998 and 2008, Soto was issued an impressive 20 citations for traffic violations. In 2008 his commercial driver’s license, which is required to operate large transportation vehicles, was temporarily suspended due to the infractions.

Soto was arrested in 2011 immediately after the crash; while in custody, Chicago police learned that he was wanted for two sexual assault cases involving minor girls. In one of those cases he was charged for predator criminal sexual assault of a child and aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child under 13. In the other, in 1993, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for aggravated criminal sexual assault of a six year old girl. In 1982, he was also given a four-year prison sentence for battery and attempted rape.

Pontarelli Group Charter agreed to a $6.75 million settlement with Palka’s family, in addition to a $500-per-year contribution to the Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship Fund of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A tour bus crash recently occurred in Los Angeles, injuring about 55 people when it overturned on the 210 Freeway. The charter bus was in-route to a casino around 10 a.m. Witnesses told the LA Times that they saw the bus brake hard in the far left lane before overturning onto its side and skidding to the right freeway shoulder. The bus was traveling at about 70 miles per hour at the time.

Seven passengers were taken by helicopter to nearby hospitals, though fortunately there were no deaths reported. The company that owns the bus, Da Zhen Bus, based in Monterey Park, California, confirmed the bus was in-route to San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in Highland.

In related news, a tour bus carrying relatives of Dr. Martin King Jr. collided with a minivan while leaving the U.S. capitol after the 50th anniversary of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The minivan reportedly ran through a red light and forced the bus driver to slam on the brakes. The family had just spent the day commemorating King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington. The bus driver was taken to the hospital as a precaution, though no one else suffered any injuries.

Bus accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating on behalf of those seriously injured in bus accidents throughout the country. If you or a loved one was involved in a major bus accident caused by the negligence of another, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for any medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.


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