Damages Cap and the Chattanooga Bus Crash

Recently, Chattanooga saw another tragedy when a school bus driver lost control and crashed, killing six children and injuring even more. Though news reports continue to evolve, at present it appears that numerous complaints were written by students and educators alike noting the reckless driving patterns of the 24 year old driver. Lawsuits will, and should, follow. Parents lost children and families have been torn apart.

From a litigation standpoint, those affected by the bus crash will likely file suit against the County school system, the private bus contracting company, and the driver. The allocation of fault among the parties won't be known until a jury finally decides, although many people have opinions.

Setting fault aside, however, damages are equally interesting. In 2011, the Tennessee legislature passed and the Governor signed, TCA § 29-39-102, which limits damages in civil lawsuits. This law caps non-economic damages in most instances at $750,000. Non-economic damages include things such as pain and suffering, disfigurement or scarring, the loss of enjoyment of life, etc. All of which likely affect the children on the bus and their families. As a parent, I wonder to myself, “if my daughters had been on that bus, would $750,000 fully compensate them for their pain and suffering, disfigurement, scarring and the loss of enjoyment of life?”

Another interesting issue which may arise, is whether the County or the private bus company performing the County's duties, can argue additional defenses such as those created under Tennessee's Governmental Tort Liability Act. Again, like the apportionment of fault, these issues won't be known until well into the forthcoming litigation. Ultimately, however, the impacted children and families will never be the same regardless of the amount of monetary damages they receive.