How much is a child’s life worth? If a child’s life is tragically ended because of gross negligence, how much in compensation should the grieving family receive? For families of children killed in the Tennessee bus accident, the answer is loud, clear, and appalling: Not very much.
A 2011 Tennessee bill set a $750,000 cap to payouts in personal injury lawsuits filed against doctors and other businesses. This law now protects Durham School Services, the private company providing the Chattanooga area with school buses and drivers and the 24-year-old bus driver whose reckless driving had previously received numerous complaints from concerned parents.
On November 21, the bus driver was driving 37 children home from school when his school bus flew off the road, flipped, and smashed into a telephone pole. At the time of the crash, the driver was driving the bus off of his designated route and at a speed well over the 30 mph limit.
The accident was this particular driver’s second in only 2 months. In September, this same driver crossed into the opposite lane around a blind curve and side-swiped another car. What’s worse, numerous students and parents were already complaining about the driver’s history of reckless driving. One student had written a letter in October stating: “The bus driver drives fast…. It feels like the bus is going to flip over. When someone is in the aisle he stops the bus and he makes people hit their heads.” Another child wrote: “The bus driver was doing sharp turns and he made me fly over to the next seat. We need seat belts.”
No Justice Here
So far 6 children have died from the tragic Chattanooga bus accident, and dozens more were injured. The driver faces 6 counts of vehicular homicide, as well as charges of reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
However, even though the guilty driver may be convicted, the families of victims will have to walk away with a pittance, which is not right. The 2011 Tennessee Civil Justice Act severely limits the amount of recompense a family can receive in such a situation, even if they’re dealing with an injured child’s medical fees.
If any of the grieving families decide to file civil lawsuits, they can be awarded no more than $750,000 per the shameful 2011 Tennessee law. Verna Wyatt, the executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, said this amount was an insult for families trying to cope with the death of a child. "When you talk about negligence that takes a life, $750,000 doesn't seem like a whole lot, does it?” She asked.
In the early 2000s, Tennessee’s state government pursued tort reform after doctors complained their insurance rates were increasing. The doctors said that the threat of malpractice lawsuits was making insurance rates go up and that they were considering leaving the state because of it. As a result, state lawmakers drafted a law protecting doctors and businesses from litigation, much to the detriment of Tennessee citizens – and their families – whom have been victimized.
A Frightening Problem for the American Public
As the case in Tennessee shows, tort reform is just another way in which Big Business wins and individuals lose. In an ideal world, businesses want to be able to function without the fear of punishment if they make mistakes or lose out on risky decisions. However, when businesses become exempt from righting their wrongs, their focus on safety decreases. Ultimately, citizens are taken advantage of, and private companies are let off the hook when they’re guilty of murder.
If more states follow Tennessee’s lead in regard to tort reform (which is starting to happen), then businesses will start to function with more and more impunity and less accountability. The result will be greater profits for the companies and less justice for victimized American citizens. And, with a new president in office who seems poised to help Big Business, no matter the consequences, parents may want to start driving their kids to school