THE Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) finds itself hopping, skipping and jumping on legal fire coals, as its bill for accident claims keeps climbing.
The 22-year-old company, which operates a public transportation system in the Corporate Area, is moving fast to reduce costs arising from legal claims and legal fees, and although it has chopped the number of accidents involving its buses, company officials are still cagey about the overall cost associated with road errors.
"If there is any part of the JUTC that is a nightmare, it is the claims that result from accidents, minor and major," the company's Managing Director Colin Campbell, told the Jamaica Observer last week.
"Right now our claim obligations and legal fees are somewhere in the region of $800 million, which is huge. That represents outstanding obligations and it grows significantly over every quarter of every year," Campbell added.
Two of the several accidents that have involved JUTC buses, account for more than half the amount, Campbell said, while revealing that the growing legal costs have left the company's managers desperately searching for solutions.
"We had two major accidents in the past — one at Faith's Pen (St Ann) and one at Hellshire (St Catherine), and those two alone account for about a half-a-billion dollars in claims," stated Campbell, a former Cabinet minister in a previous People's National Party Administration.
In the October, 2010 Faith's Pen accident, the JUTC bus carrying a church group to a retreat plunged over a precipice, killing 16-year-old Bridgeport High School student Jodian Henry on the spot.
Another 40 people were injured, 10 of whom spent several days in the St Ann's Bay Hospital before they recovered.
Jeremy Stewart, whom the JUTC said was not authorised to drive the bus, initially fled the scene, but later gave himself up to the Spanish Town police and was charged with vehicular manslaughter. Stewart also broke his leg in the accident.
Accident victims later filed suit against the JUTC.
The Hellshire crash in April last year occurred on that community's main road near the JUTC's Portmore bus depot.
A father and son, Emanuel Wallis, 50, and Christopher Wallis, 19, both of Clarendon, died on the spot when their Suzuki Baleno motor car collided with the JUTC bus, which fell on top of the smaller vehicle, crushing the two.
"We are dealing with claims now that go as far back as 2007. Some which have gone to court, some which have been settled through mediation, some which have been settled just through attorney negotiations, some which we have accepted," Campbell said.
"It is definitely something that we have to clean up," he added.
The JUTC's deputy managing director, operations, Kirk Finnikin also reiterated to the Sunday Observer that accident numbers need to be reduced if the company is to focus on making the entity profitable.
"We have been able to reduce our accidents by 30 per cent over previous financial years," he said.
"Where we are now is in the region of in the 50s each month. In other words, just over one, but under two, is what our accident rate is per day," Finnikin said.