A 9-year-old Woodmore Elementary student was permanently disfigured in last week's school bus crash, his family members claim in a negligence lawsuit filed Tuesday against the driver and his employer.
It is the second such suit to be filed in relation to the Nov. 21 crash that killed six children and wounded several more.
The filing coincided with Johnthony Walker's first appearance in Hamilton County General Sessions Court, which attorneys agreed to delay to Dec. 15. At that time, Judge Lila Statom will likely hear the state's initial case against Walker and decide whether the evidence merits a trip to the grand jury. Walker, 24, faces charges of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving.
His attorney, Amanda Dunn, said Walker is distraught over last week's tragedy. She also reminded that he is presumed innocent under the law until proven guilty.
"Obviously, this has been a devastating tragedy for the Chattanooga community. There are families in mourning. There are families who are still dealing with loved ones," Dunn said. "Mr. Walker's family is also devastated by this tragedy. Mr. Walker is devastated. As he sits in jail right now, Mr. Walker is an innocent man. He will remain so until proven guilty. So our prayers go out to the entire community."
Police said Walker was speeding on Nov. 21 when he lost control of his school bus and struck a telephone pole and tree on Talley Road. The bus toppled and twisted, killing five children. A sixth died two days later. Several more were wounded in the crash, police said.
According to Tuesday's lawsuit, the 9-year-old child "suffered serious psychological and emotional injuries in that crash when he was forced to lie trapped and bleeding in the bus for almost two hours while surrounded by friends and classmates who were similarly injured or killed."
As a result, the family is seeking damages from Walker and his employer, Durham School Services, a private company that provides the majority of the county's buses.
Family members are suffering from "severe mental anguish, psychological injury, and emotional distress that has caused and will cause [them] to incur further medical expenses for [them] and [their] son," whose body is so disfigured from the crash that his economic prospects are forever diminished, attorney Everett L. Hixson Jr. wrote in the suit.
Filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court, the lawsuit mirrors the first complaint filed nearly a week ago by attorney Herbert Thornbury. That suit claims Durham is liable as Walker's employer and that, as a result of the crash, a different 8-year-old passenger sustained considerable medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering.
In addition to those arguments, Tuesday's lawsuit expressed grievances with statutory caps, which will limit anyone who files a personal damages lawsuit from receiving more than $750,000 from a jury for "non-economic damages" such as pain and suffering. That's the result of Tennessee's General Assembly tweaking its tort reform in 2011 to include businesses outside of hospitals and private medical practices. And it applies to several of the family's personal claims.
"Plaintiffs contend such an artificial limitation on their pain and suffering damages is arbitrary, not based on quantifiable or objective factors, and is an unconstitutional interference with [their] right to have a jury quantify their pain and suffering," Hixson wrote.
Both suits request a jury trial.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.