Chattanooga School Bus Wreck Tragically Highlights Immunity Issue

We wrote just a few days ago about the bus crash in Nashville involving a school bus in Chester County.  That school bus wreck was bad enough, but today’s school bus accident in Chattanooga is even more tragic.

Apparently, a school bus filled with 35 children crashed into a tree.  It has been reported that six children have died in the crash off Talley Road in Hamilton County and many others have been injured, some in critical condition.  The students attended Woodmore Elementary School.

No information about the cause of the crash is currently publicly available, although speed is being investigated as a factor.  Reportedly the school bus driver is cooperating with authorities. UPDATE:  CNN reports that the bus driver, Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving and that the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating on Tuesday November 22.

This crash shines an even brighter light on a very unjust Tennessee law.  Assuming this bus was owned by a school district or other governmental entity, that the bus driver was a government employee, and the bus driver negligently caused the wreck (all of which are big assumptions – no one knows what happened) – the of families of the injured and the deceased will have to divide $700,000 as compensation for their losses.  Why?  Because local governments have had a loss passed which limits their liability for injury and death caused by government employees to no more than $700,000 ($1,000,000 if the negligent actor was a state employee).  This is true even if two dozen children lost their lives or were injured in the crash – their families have to divide up $700,000.

Once again, I hasten to add that no one knows who bears responsibility for this crash.  One must look at the actions of the driver and the mechanical operation of the bus itself (was there a maintenance issue or a product defect?).  Was there another vehicle involved?  Was their a problem with road design or signage?  There are lots of possibilities that these families will have to explore.

But I point out this horrible law limiting the responsibility of government to its citizens  because Tennesseans need to know that they can be harmed by their government and have limited recourse for their injuries and losses.  We have a right to expect better treatment from our government – after all, they work for us.  And when the government causes harm, it should have the same responsibilities as a private citizen or corporation.  Why should the government get special treatment?

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