The November 22 Tennessee bus accident which left 6 children dead and critically injured 23 more has impacted every family within the state. Now, families of the children who lost their lives have discovered they can receive no more than $750,000 in personal damages.
Modifications to the Tennessee tort reform law in 2011 limited payouts in any personal injury claim against doctors and other relevant businesses. This law, says Tennessee bus accident lawyers, will likely apply to the families considering a civil lawsuit against the Durham School Services and district. The driver of the bus, 24 year old Johnthony Walker, lost control crashing into a tree and telephone pole. Chattanooga police have said Mr. Walker has been charged with six counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
According to federal records, the private company that owned the bus has had 142 recorded accidents in the last 24 months, which included 3 fatalities. At least 36 accidents, and 1 fatality, occurred in Tennessee and 2 in Hamilton County alone.
Durham School Services, based in Warrenville, Ill., has contracts with multiple bus companies to operate school buses in several Tennessee counties including Hamilton and Shelby. Durham School Services has said it will cover all medical expenses, hospital bills and funeral costs.
Early in the 2000s, Georgia and Tennessee’s general assembly’s sought tort reform after doctors made complaints that their insurance rates were greatly increase because of large compensation awards given from “frivolous” lawsuits. The doctors said they may have to leave the states if a cap was not put into place for non-economic damages such as emotional anguish or pain and suffering.
Lawmakers in Tennessee decided upon a $750,000 cap. Even still it is up to the jurors to decide upon the amount which cannot exceed the cap as set by the law. In 2011, this cap was extended to all businesses involved in personal injury claims. One bus accident lawyer says Tennessee’s broad approach to these claims is unfair. Durham is a large company with insurance that is more than capable of providing just settlements. The $750,000 cap, the lawyer goes onto saying, “is almost an insult.”
Other lawyers in the state say lawmakers exaggerated the initial problem of high jury verdicts – when in truth, there are not that many. Furthermore, these amounts can always be reduced by the Judge, The Tennessee Court of Appeals and The Supreme Court. Such checks and balances which exist in the system already should be what prevents any unjust amount being awarded, and not arbitrary caps.
Families of the Woodmore bus accident may be able to seek economic damages which could exceed the cap. These damages include, but are not limited to past and future medical expenses. In the case of the victims’ family, if they were to file a bus accident lawsuit and the jury awarded more than $750,000 for non-economical damages, the judge would have to reduce that amount. Judge W. Neil Thomas III argued in 2015 that the state of Tennessee does not have the constitutional right to cap non-economic damages. He believes it is up to the jury to decide the award as they deem fit. The Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the ruling and ordered it back to the lower court system. Currently, the issue is open for debate. The after mass of such a tragic incident will hopefully encourage local lawmakers, congressmen and legal advocates to rethink the current law on personal injury caps.
For now, the families who’ve lost a child to the Woodmore bus accident have the right to file individual lawsuits against Durham School Services and the driver of the bus.