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A wrecker removes the school bus involved in the November death of six Woodmore School students.

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Second family files negligence lawsuit in connection with Woodmore crash

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Durham School Services responds to lawsuit

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While acknowledging the tragedy of the fatal Woodmore Elementary school bus crash on Nov. 21, Durham School Services says it should not be held liable in federal court. 

Durham, the company contracted to provide busing services to Hamilton County Schools, filed a response Thursday to the federal class-action lawsuit filed against it in December. In the response, Durham claims it did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights and the case should be dismissed.

"The accident should not have happened; this is beyond dispute," Durham states in the response. "That said, however, plaintiffs have a proper and adequate remedy in a state court tort action."

Eight lawsuits have been filed against Durham in state court in connection with the case, the lawsuit claims. 

"Like those cases, this case against Durham is about its alleged negligence in hiring, training, and supervising [the bus driver]," the response claims. "... this case is not about a deprivation of plaintiffs' Constitution rights or a conspiracy to do so, and therefore must be dismissed."

In state court, Tennessee's tort reform law limits the payout of personal damages families of the children killed in the Nov. 21 crash can receive at $750,000.  

In federal court, the tort restrictions are not binding if its determined a plaintiffs' constitutional rights are violated. 

The 24-year-old bus driver, Johnthony Walker, is not named in this federal lawsuit, but faces charges of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. He is being held in the Hamilton County Jail. Police say he was going about 20 mph over the posted speed limit on Talley Road in Brainerd when he crashed the bus, killing six students. 

The class-action lawsuit names Hamilton County Schools, district Transportation Supervisor Ben Coulter and Durham School Services, claiming each party failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the tragedy.

The school district, Coulter and Durham School Services received complaints about the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, before the crash but did nothing to protect the 37 students who continued riding his bus, according to the lawsuit filed in December.

"This horror was foreseeable, predictable and preventable," the lawsuit claims.

Attorney Ronald Berke filed the lawsuit for a family of a survivor of the crash and on behalf of all the passengers and their families. The lawsuit estimates that is about 100 people.

Hamilton County Schools or Coulter are yet to file a response in this case.

Attorney James M. Burd filed a response on behalf of Durham. 

See tomorrow's Times Free Press for the full story.

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