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Bus crash money deposited in court

An attorney for the Washington County Board of Education filed a $700,000 check and a court document last week related to a handful of lawsuits filed from a Sept. 20 school bus crash in Telford.
The “interpleader,” as it is called, is a document asking that the Washington County Circuit Court determine how the $700,000 be distributed among the 39 students on board the school bus that crashed last month.
In all, 26 of those students were transported to area hospitals from the crash scene that day with injuries.
Authorities allege Brenda K. Gray, of Jonesborough, was driving the school bus nearly twice the legal speed limit on the road when it crashed, flipping twice before landing on its side.
Some students suffered serious injuries that required immediate surgery. Many continue to require medical treatment more than a month after the wreck.
Five lawsuits were filed Oct. 15 on behalf of six students who were on board the bus. More lawsuits are expected.
Tennessee law, however, caps the amount of money that can be awarded in this or similar wrecks involving county agencies at $700,000 no matter how many lawsuits are filed. The cap includes medical expenses, which in all likelihood, will exceed $700,000.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he was unaware the law considered a crash like the one in Washington County on Sept. 20 as one incident rather than per individual involved.
While the law was put into place to protect taxpayers from a “runaway jury” awarding someone exorbitant amounts of money at the expense of those paying taxes in that community, Ramsey said he felt there might be a need to reexamine the law.
“There may be somewhere we can come back in and compromise,” Ramsey said. “It is taxpayer money we are talking about here, but normally $700,000 is going to cover one event. On an incident like this, there may be somewhere where the law needs to be addressed.”
Even if the crash prompts a change in law, it is not retroactive, meaning the students involved in the bus wreck would not be eligible to receive any additional compensation.
However, Ramsey said he would be willing to work with State Sen. Rusty Crowe, who represents the area, to find a way to help the children involved and their families.
“I’d be more than happy to work with him to make sure nobody is out any money,” Ramsey said. ”I would be more than willing to look at what it would take to get their medical bills paid.”
Washington County Board of Education attorney Earl Booze filed the interpleader on Oct. 23. It was an expected move as Booze previously said this is the way he would recommend the cases proceed.
The check was issued by Tennessee Risk Management Trust, the organization that covers liability for the operation of school buses by employees of the school system.
It is now up to a judge in Washington County Circuit Court to decide how to distribute the $700,000. The school system has asked that, “in the interest of fairness,” the court appoint a special master or authorized officer of the court to administer the claims process.
The Board of Education is subject to multiple claims and lawsuits from the minor children that were on the bus as well as claims by their parents or legal guardians. The request is that all those claims, including any that have yet to be filed, be consolidated with this interpleader for a “proper and just adjudication.”
The $700,000 will remain in an interest-bearing account pending the resolution of the various claims. In previous interviews, Booze said he suspects the case could go on for several years.