Lawsuit Blames School Officials for Failing to Prevent Deadly Woodmore Bus Crash

Dec 23, 2016

Emergency responders work the scene of the fatal Talley Road school bus crash on 11/21/16.
Credit Chattanooga Fire Department

A federal class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the Woodmore bus crash victims alleges Hamilton County school officials could have prevented the deadly wreck.

Two law firms--Murphy, Falcon & Murphy and Berke, Berke & Berke--filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on behalf of the six children killed and dozens more injured in the crash that occurred on November 21, 2016.

Prior to the wreck, 24-year-old bus driver Johnthony Walker had trouble enforcing discipline on the bus. The lawsuit alleges Walker threatened the children and drove recklessly, slamming on the brakes and swerving, in a sadistic attempt to restore discipline.

Days before the fatal crash, two students wrote complaints about Walker, saying he went too fast, and emails show officials were aware of those complaints and other concerns about Walker's driving.

From a statement released by the law firms:

The Complaint alleges that the Hamilton County Department of Education, its Supervisorof Transportation, Benjamin Coulter, and Durham School Services, L.P. violated and permittedthe continued violations of the Constitutional rights of the children on board Bus 366. Theseviolations, it is alleged, directly caused the tragedy on November 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 actual prior knowledge that the bus driverwas hurting the children by slamming on the brakes, driving recklessly, and intentionallyswerving 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 forassistance, even directing him to stop referring so many students to the principal’s office eventhough the Defendants knew of the driver’s conduct. They also ignored the repeated complaintsof the children on the bus, their parents and other school officials.

 The Complaint is the first lawsuit stemming from the tragedy that seeks to hold both thebus 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, isthat the Plaintiffs are not subject to Tennessee’s monetary limits on liability for governmentbodies 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.

 Next year, a grand jury will consider vehicular homicide charges and other charges against Walker.