Colusa Bus Crash Highlights Dangers of Negligent Hiring


When it comes to safety, shortcuts can be detrimental.  The family and friends of those killed in the Colusa bus crash on Sunday know this to be true.  The driver of the bus, Quinton J. Watts, was found to be driving under the influence.  It has also been discovered that Watts had an extensive record involving criminal activity and multiple moving violations.  On top of that, he had no experience driving a bus.  Eight passengers were killed and at least 35 were injured in that fateful crash.  In this case, one background check could have saved eight lives, including that of the bus company’s owner, Daniel Cobb.

So next time you are evaluating your screening process (Is the money we are spending worth it? Is this something we really need to be doing?), think about this story.  I think the answer is evident.

Colusa Bus Crash Highlights Dangers of Negligent Hiring

David Rosenthal, – October 7, 2008

The Sacramento Bee is reporting that the driver of a bus that crashed in Colusa on Sunday was hired by the bus owner the week before after he responded to an online classified ad. It turns out Quintin J. Watts was a truck driver who had no experience driving busses, had an extensive history of citations for moving violations, and had even been convicted of several criminal offenses. Investigators say alcohol and drugs may have contributed to Mr. Watts falling asleep at the wheel and rolling the bus, killing 10 passengers and injuring at least 35 more, some critically.
The hiring of this driver is astonishing when you consider that California, like many states, requires that “common carriers” exercise a higher degree of care for the safety of their passengers than the average person driving with a passenger. Under Civil Code §2100, persons or entities that transport people for financial compensation must “use the utmost diligence for their safe carriage.” Most individuals are held to a lesser standard of reasonable care. The higher standard makes sense when you consider that common carriers, such as trains and busses, carry large numbers of people and safety considerations can sometimes give way to efforts to increase profits.

Daniel Cobb, the owner of the private bus that crashed Sunday was obviously desparate for a driver since he placed an online classified ad for the position on 10/2/08. He apparently was willing to forego a background check or to simply ignore Watts’ checkered past because he was Cobb’s stepson. It was a costly decision not only for the passengers and their families, but for Cobb himself, who died as a result of the collision. Cobb’s poor choice of a driver had diproportionately tragic consequences for families in Sacramento’s Lao and Hmong communities, whose parents and grandparents were his regular customers.

Many responsible common carriers have minimum training requirements and conduct stringent background checks. However, far too often we see the tragic consequences of employers who take short cuts in hiring the people who are entrusted with the safe transportation of our loved ones. Make sure that the common carrier you hire is not gambling on safety.