Seven lawsuits were filed late last week against the Washington County school district over a bus crash in September that injured 26 students.
Johnson City personal injury lawyer Tony Seaton confirmed he represents 12 students who were injured in the crash Sept. 20 on Mount Wesley Road when the driver, Brenda K. Gray, 54, of Jonesborough, lost control and went off the road.
The bus, which carried 39 David Crockett High School students — including Gray’s son — turned onto its side and rolled once, officials said.
Gray is charged with eight counts of reckless aggravated assault, 31 counts of felony reckless endangerment, speeding, reckless driving and failure to exercise due care.
Several students received life threatening injuries and many were transported to the Johnson City Medical Center by WINGS Air Rescue.
Seaton said the lawsuits allege “general negligence against the county because of the injuries,” to his clients.
He said his office represents 12 of the injured students and other lawsuits will be filed soon.
“It’s just based upon the negligence on the county for failing to supervise bus drivers,” and their routes, he said.
“We’ve got some information the bus driver was not on the route she was supposed to be on and she was possibly horse playing.”
Tennessee Highway Patrol investigators and the District Attorney’s office have said they have no evidence at this point that Gray was playing a game with the bus on the curvy county road or claims that she wasn’t supposed to be on Mount Wesley Road.
“We’ve done some investigation but we haven’t completed it,” Seaton said. “One of reasons we filed so early is to get information before it gets cold.”
Another local attorney, Don Spurrell, represents Cheyenne Bunton, the most seriously injured student on the bus. His position at this point is to negotiate with the school system instead of filing a lawsuit.
“We have been in touch with the attorney for the county and we’re in the process of providing him with medical records, documents related to the injuries sustained by my client,” Spurrell said.
“That’s the way we’re handling it right now instead of filing suit. We don’t feel there’s any need whatsoever to file suit right now. We think the case will settle. We’re no where near the statute of limitations.”
Both attorneys said there is a $700,000 limit on what the school system would be required to pay for all the students injuries.
“This is tort reform. The max amount the county would have to pay out is $700,0000. So if (she) had rolled this bust twice and killed these kids, we’d be looking at these parents and saying your child is worth $16,000,” Seaton said.
He said after discussion with the county attorney, John Rambo, he believes the county might step up and accept responsibility and allow a judge to determine how to distribute the $700,000.
“What we anticipate the county doing is waiting until the statute of limitations runs, which is a year, and file a lawsuit called an interpleader. They will ask the court to divide the $700,000.
“We’ve been in touch with the county and their attorney ... his response is they may go ahead and filed the interpleader.”
With the lawsuits being filed against the county and not Gray personally, the civil action doesn’t have to get delayed while the criminal case is pending.
Gray is free on a $50,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing scheduled in Washington County General Sessions Court Nov. 13.