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B.C. tour company involved in fatal U.S. crash facing another lawsuit

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a fatal accident where a tour bus careened through a guardrail and several hundred feet down a steep embankment east of Pendleton, Ore., on Dec. 30, 2012.

Tim Trainor/The Associated Press

The British Columbia-based tour company that operated a bus that crashed on a wintry Oregon highway nearly a year ago, killing nine people and injuring dozens more, is facing yet another lawsuit from a group of survivors and the estates of two dead passengers.

The bus, operated by Mi Joo Tour and Travel, crashed on a highway near Pendleton, Ore., on Dec. 30, 2012. The accident has since prompted numerous lawsuits and investigations.

The latest lawsuit was filed earlier this week in an Oregon court by 10 survivors and the estates of two people killed in the crash. They are seeking damages that could total more than US$700 million.

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A 22-page statement of claim, which has not been tested in court, repeats previous allegations that the bus driver was speeding, was not driving safely for the conditions, and was working without adequate sleep.

Mi Joo was negligent "in requiring defendant Haeng Kyu Hwang (the bus driver) to drive for excessive periods of time throughout the tour, such that he was fatigued and likely to exercise poor judgment," the document says.

The document also alleges the company failed to properly equip the bus for winter driving conditions and did not properly train or supervise the driver.

The lawsuit also names the Oregon state government and its Transportation Department, alleging the highway was unsafe and wasn't properly cleared of snow.

The company's lawyer, Mark Scheer, has previously insisted the driver had enough rest and instead blamed the crash on black ice.

On Friday, Scheer declined to address the allegations in the latest lawsuit, deferring instead to his previous statements.

Scheer suggested the lawsuit, which was filed a week before the one-year anniversary of the crash, was a publicity stunt.

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"We're disappointed in the timing of the lawsuit, as it seems very unfortunate to have filed this on the eve of the one-year anniversary of this very unfortunate accident," he said in an interview.

Scheer said the company had hoped to avoid a lawsuit, but he declined to comment about whether the victims had been offered any kind of settlement. Regardless, he said the company still maintains it was not at fault.

A spokesperson for Oregon's Transportation Department could not be reached for comment.

The bus departed from Vancouver shortly before Christmas last year on a tour through Oregon and the southwestern United States.

On the morning of the crash, the tour left Boise, Idaho, on what was supposed to be the final leg of the trip, according to the lawsuit. There were 47 passengers on board, most of them South Korean.

The accident happened on Interstate 84 along a section known as Deadman's Pass. The driver lost control of the bus, which left the highway and plunged about 60 metres down a steep embankment.

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Nine passengers were killed and more than three dozen people were injured.

The following day, the U.S. Department of Transportation pulled Mi Joo Tour and Travel's authority to operate in the United States.

Less than two weeks later, the B.C. government suspended Mi Joo's operations after a safety audit found the company kept inadequate records and failed to properly monitor how long its drivers were behind the wheel.

The crash has triggered at least three other lawsuits against the company, one in British Columbia and two in Washington state.

Many of the allegations in those lawsuits focus on the length of time the driver had worked without rest, as well as accusations the driver was travelling too fast and ignored warnings about poor road conditions.

The company has yet to formally respond to the B.C. lawsuit, but filed a statement of defence in one of the American cases, denying any wrongdoing.

None of the allegations in any of the lawsuits have been proven in court.

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