Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 30, 2016

Local firm files lawsuit on behalf of victims of school bus tragedy

Ronald Berke, Charles Flynn, Emma Flynn and Marvin Berke, members of Chattanooga-based law firm Berke, Berke & Berke. - Submitted

Chattanooga-based law firm Berke, Berke & Berke, along with Baltimore, Maryland-based law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, has filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on behalf of the victims of the Chattanooga school bus tragedy.

The complaint alleges that the Hamilton County Department of Education, its supervisor of transportation, Benjamin Coulter, and Durham School Services violated and permitted the continued violations of the Constitutional rights of the children on board Bus 366. These violations, it is alleged, directly caused the tragedy on Nov. 21, 2016, where six elementary school students died in a violent crash caused by the bus driver’s reckless driving.

The complaint alleges that the defendants had prior knowledge that the bus driver was hurting the children by slamming on the brakes, driving recklessly and intentionally swerving the bus to throw the children from their seats in order to discipline the children.

The complaint further alleges that the defendants ignored the bus driver’s requests for assistance, even directing him to stop referring so many students to the principal’s office even though the defendants knew of the driver’s conduct.

They also ignored the repeated complaints of the children on the bus, their parents and other school officials.

In addition to acting with callous and deliberate indifference to the repeated acts of the bus driver prior to the crash, the complaint alleges that the defendants created a dangerous situation by endorsing the driver’s method of discipline and affirmatively ordering the children onto the bus each day, thereby failing to protect them from the danger.

The complaint is the first lawsuit stemming from the tragedy that seeks to hold both the bus company and the school district accountable for their roles in the crash.

An advantage to the federal court filing, in which Constitutional violations are asserted, is that the plaintiffs are not subject to Tennessee’s monetary limits on liability for government bodies or Tennessee’s monetary limits on liability for damages.

In addition, the complaint seeks punitive damages against both the bus company and the transportation supervisor for their roles in the crash.

The complaint also requests that the matter be certified as a class action in order to ensure that each victim receives the full measure of damages permitted under the law, and to ensure an orderly procedure by which to handle these claims, as opposed to pursuing multiple separate actions.

Source: Berke, Berke & Berke