Laidlaw, victims’ families settle suits

posted on:
November 27, 2008

author:
David Holden

The lawsuits filed by their families were settled during mediation that began Tuesday and ended about 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, the lawyers said. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed because of a confidentiality agreement.

Twenty-six other students were injured in the crash, and lawsuits filed on their behalf are pending, as are claims against International Diesel, the manufacturer of the bus.

The trial in the lawsuit filed by Ford’s father, Calvin Fletcher, was scheduled to begin Dec. 8 before Madison County Circuit Judge Loyd H. Little Jr. Little still presides over the remaining injury cases.

Fletcher was at home Wednesday making plans for a third Thanksgiving Day without his daughter. He was accompanied by his grandson, DeMarcus, Nicole’s rambunctious 6-year-old son.

“We are glad that it is finally over,” Fletcher said. “We can move on.”

Fletcher said DeMarcus occasionally asks questions about his mother.

“He knows that she is in heaven,” he said.

The settlement ends the four families’ suits against Laidlaw and Anthony Tyrone Scott, the driver of the bus, said Doug Fees, the lawyer representing the Hill family, but not against former Lee student Tony Williams.

Before the crash, the bus collided with a car being driven by then-17-year-old Williams. The bus and Williams were headed to the city school system’s Center for Technology on Drake Avenue.

Williams is not represented by an attorney and was not at the mediation session, Fees said. Mediation of the 26 injury cases are scheduled to begin in February, said Fees, who represents seven of the injured students.

The lawsuits allege the bus driver, Scott, was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown onto the elevated roadway before the bus plunged off the overpass.

Fees sued Laidlaw and the manufacturer of the vehicle, International Truck and Engine Corp., on behalf of Lisa Hill Sledge, the mother of Tanesha Hill.

Fees said the settlement reached Wednesday only partially settled his lawsuit. The International Truck and Engine Corp. was not present at the mediation session.

Fees said he added the manufacturer because the lawsuit claims the bus was not crashworthy, did not include seat belts for the passengers, or a seat belt reminder for the driver, and passenger seat belts were offered only as optional equipment, Fees said.

“Any equipment that is intended to prevent serious injury or death is never optional equipment,” he said. “It should always be standard equipment.”

Calvin Fletcher’s attorney Jere Beasley said he hopes that the Alabama Legislature will require seat belts on school buses. Gov. Bob Riley appointed a task force that recommended a pilot project using seat belts on buses, which started this year in Madison and Decatur and a few other Alabama school systems.

The University of Alabama will study the results and make a recommendation to the governor whether seat belts should be required.

The bus companies are a powerful lobbying group against seat belts, Beasley said.

“To them it costs less not to install them,” he said.

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