Any time children are involved in an accident, the results seem to pull on the heartstrings just a little more. Everyone seems to hold their breath, waiting and hoping that each child gets to be tucked into bed that night.
Tragically, that is not always the case, though, and, perhaps even more tragically, those accidents are often preventable.
Just before Christmas, new information regarding the Nov. 21, 2016, school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tenn., was released as a judge found enough evidence against the driver to send his case to a grand jury, according to a CNN article.
Investigators testified the bus driver was allegedly driving 50 mph in a 30 mph zone and was using his cell phone at an undisclosed time in the bus, which violates protocol when children are present. Six children ages 6 to 10 were killed and more than a dozen of the 37 total passengers were injured when the bus swerved off the street and almost split in half after hitting a tree.
The case and the tragic results cause me to believe Huntsville, Ala., has empathy for what has unfolded in Tennessee. In 2006, a bus carrying 40 students careened off an overpass in Huntsville after being clipped by a car. The front of the bus was crushed, killing the four students in the first row of seats and leaving 20 others injured.
In the Chattanooga incident, which occurred just a day after the 10-year anniversary of the Alabama crash, the driver is potentially being charged criminally and has been named in several civil lawsuits along with his employer and the bus manufacturer. In the Huntsville crash, I was lead attorney on a civil case filed against bus company Laidlaw Transit concerning senior Nicole Ford’s death.
We found through crash reconstruction and research that the Huntsville crash and subsequent loss of life was 100 percent preventable. According to Laidlaw’s contract with the city, drivers were required to be properly trained, have no criminal record and be morally fit for the job. We discovered the driver was not fit for the position after driving complaints had been filed against him, and his extensive criminal record, including charges for using a vehicle to endanger the life of another person, should have immediately disqualified him from the position.
In addition, according to state law, drivers are required to wear seatbelts while operating school buses. In this instance, the driver was found on the overpass after the crash claiming he fell out of the bus, something wearing a seat belt should have prevented. He may not have even been in the bus to steer it to safety as a result of his negligence.
This case was settled for a confidential amount and the city of Huntsville ended its contract with Laidlaw after seeing how the accident should have been prevented.
Both tragic cases emphasize how important transportation safety has become, and serve as a reminder of the costs when safety is not made a priority.
* * *
For more information on whether a bus accident qualifies for compensation, contact Kendall Dunson, a principal in BA’s Personal Injury and Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or email Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com.