A Johnson City attorney was appointed Wednesday to oversee disbursement of $700,000 in insurance money to students injured in a September bus crash.
During a brief hearing Wednesday, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley Sr. named Eddie Lauderback as special master to determine how much compensation each student will receive from the county school system’s insurer.
“He’s an attorney of great ability (and) unquestioned integrity,” the judge said.
Seeley ruled Lauderback must meet with all litigants within 20 days of his appointment to discuss the case.
The bus crash happened Sept. 20 on Mount Wesley Road as the driver, Brenda K. Gray, was starting her after-school route from David Crockett High School.
Gray ran off the road and the bus overturned, injuring all 39 students on board. Tennessee Highway Patrol traffic investigators determined Gray was speeding and at fault for the crash.
The Washington County School System has already accepted responsibility for the students’ injuries, but state law limits a government agency’s liability to $700,000 per incident.
That money was already deposited to the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office by the school system’s insurer, Tennessee Risk Management Trust.
Seeley said Lauderback will be tasked in evaluating medical records and determining the extent of each student’s injuries. Lauderback will also have to file a report to Seeley after meeting with the litigants.
The special master appointment came at the request of attorney Earl Booze, who represents Risk Management. He filed a motion in January asking Seeley for that, as well as permission for the school system to destroy Bus 88.
That’s the bus Gray drove the day of the crash, and it’s been in a secure location since then.
One attorney involved in the case, Tom Jessee, asked Seeley to delay destruction of the bus as a precaution for any students who are not represented by attorneys yet.
As of Wednesday afternoon, approximately 10 students, or their guardians, had not hired attorneys, according to Booze. Five lawsuits were filed in October on behalf of six victims, but there have not been any others filed.
Seeley also set a 90-day time frame for all parties to inspect the bus, but said there could be an extension if needed. Barring any request for an extension, the school system will be allowed to dispose of the bus.
Seeley did not rule on a request from one attorney about assigning court costs and fees for the special master to Risk Management instead of allowing it to be paid from the $700,000.
“Under the rules, the cost is to be taxed to a party or a fund. I’d rather tax it to a party,” Seeley said. He withheld ruling on that issue on Wednesday.
In the meantime, Gray faces 39 counts of reckless aggravated assault, speeding and reckless driving charges in Criminal Court. She was indicted on the charges by a grand jury in January. Her next court appearance is scheduled for March 1.