About a year after a school bus crashed into a lake near Westchase, Florida, the parents of two of the children on board have filed a lawsuit against the School Board of Hillsborough County.
It was really only a matter of time.
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of two siblings, age 8 and 11, who were both on the bus when it hit the water.
The event that prompted this first round of lawsuits—and of course, this article—happened in September 2015 when a Hillsborough County school bus full of young children crashed into a pond. The bus was completing its afternoon drop-offs when it happened.
The dramatic event took place on Thursday, September 17, near the entrance to The Eagles Golf and Country Club, a large community in northwest Tampa.
The driver of the bus was Lenoir Sainfimin. The school bus was filled with 27 students from Mary E. Bryant Elementary School.
Surveillance video released a few days after the accident show the school bus moments before it careened into a nearby pond.
Two different camera angles captured the dramatic event. One shows the bus driving northbound on Nine Eagles Boulevard towards the community's entrance. The second camera shows the bus driving by the front guard station and then plunging into the water.
In the first video footage, the bus appears to be traveling at a relatively high rate of speed for the road conditions. The second camera shows the bus crashing through either a part of the lift gate that protects the entrance, or a mechanical/electrical box that was nearby. After the bus is seen crashing through the entrance, it continues to veer off the roadway, through some grass, and into the pond. A large splash is then visible in the low-quality footage.
Bystanders can then been seen rushing to the bus, which eventually ended up on its side, partially submerged in four feet of water.
None of the 27 children who were on the bus at the time of the crash were ‘seriously' injured. Take this to mean that nobody was killed or came close to drowning.
Bystanders and law enforcement officers responded to the scene and safely pulled the children, and driver, to the shore
The bus driver, Sainfimin, had only been driving for the school district for seven days before the incident, however, he was not new to the job. He previously drove for a school district in Washington DC.
Besides the potential negligence of the driver—which is very much being evaluated—the county's bus fleet is also being called into question. The school bus involved in the intense accident was over 20-years old. It also had more than 300,000 miles on it. It did, however, pass a safety inspection just prior to the crash.
The district later determined the cause of this accident to be the driver's speed. Using the GPS located onboard the bus, officials determined that he was going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone. They were unable to find anything that pointed to a mechanical failure on the bus. However, the bus was built in 1994 and was actually a substitute for the usual bus that takes the route. The other bus was out for repairs.
[Click here for more information about liability in a school bus accident case.]
This accident has increased concern over the age and state of the fleet. The school board has been trying to replace the older buses—which are some of the most outdated in the state—but some complications have slowed the process down. Their original goal was to replace 100 buses a year for 10 years.
One hero story did come out of the incident. A 10yo student, who was still wearing his safety patrol belt from school, rescued a kindergartener and then went back into the partially submerged bus to rescue two more students.
Still, wet from his heroics, the student told news outlets, “The front window was cracked. So I went through there and then I grabbed a kindergartener's hand and put them around my neck. I pulled out two other kindergarteners and bring then on land [sic].”
"It wouldn't be fair if [the other students] died and I lived."
Thanks to his, and others, heroic actions, there were no deaths.
Concerned parents gathered on the shore of the pond, waiting to be reunited with their children. It must have been a dreadful experience.
More recently, Michelle Etman and Tom Fugatt filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of their two children. In the suit, they allege "pain and suffering, disability, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life" and other damages they say resulted from the crash.
With 27 children on the bus, there are at least 27 other potential lawsuits that could follow.
There is, however, a limited amount of money available to these families. That's because the Hillsborough County school district is considered a government entity. The state of Florida limits the amount of damages available in a civil suit against a government agency to $200,000 per person or $300,000 per incident. It requires legislative approval to exceed this amount.
So far there is no more information on the lawsuit. We will post an update when more info becomes available.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
If your child was injured or lost their life in a Florida school bus accident, you may be able to collect compensatory and punitive damages. The skilled attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA have handled these types of cases before and understand the varying factors involved. Each school district hires drivers in different ways and uses different busing services. We will assist you in determining all of the responsible parties under every theory of liability, in order to maximize your recovery.
Contact the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today for a free evaluation of your case. There is no cost to speak with a credible, experienced personal injury attorney that is knowledgeable in all transportation related cases.
School bus cases can be especially difficult, so you will want to hire an attorney with experience in this specific area of law. Call today at 727-451-6900. Do not wait; time to file your case is limited.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765