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Following Deadly Crash, Suit Claims District’s Use of Out-of-Town Bus Contractor Violated Student Rights


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Last November, six students died in a tragic school bus accident in Chattanooga, TN. Now, a federal class action lawsuit is being brought against the Hamilton County School District and Durham School Services on behalf of an injured student. The lawsuit accuses the school district of violating students’ constitutional rights by outsourcing its bussing system to Durham School Services. It is the first lawsuit to lay blame for the accident squarely at the feet of the county’s outsourcing efforts:

“The school bus operation has been outsourced to balance the books of the school district”  charges the lawsuit filed in federal court in Chattanooga today. “To maximize profit, the contractor overcrowded routes and offered school bus drivers low pay, few hours, and inadequate driver training and support. To avoid a self-created driver shortage, as they had experienced in other markets, the contractor sought out the most poorly trained, inexperienced, and poorly-qualified drivers to transport the most precious commodity of this community.”

The plaintiffs are represented by two law firms. One, from Chattanooga, is called Berke, Berke, Berke. The other, from Baltimore, is Murphy, Falcon, and Murphy. The latter firm recently represented the Freddy Gray family in a successful wrongful-death lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department. The Chattanooga school bus lawsuit cites certain civil rights precedents that are similar to those used by Murphy, Falcon, and Murphy in the Freddy Gray case, according to Payday Report:

The suit draws on the federal civil rights statute “Section 1983”, which is most commonly used in police brutality cases. The lawsuit alleges that school district and its subcontractor Durham School Services failed to protect the physical safety of the students by cutting corners on safety in pursuit of profit. In knowingly ignoring warnings from both students and the bus driver that conditions on the bus were unsafe, the suit alleges that students were willfully denied their civil rights to being safely transported to school.

Outsourcing school bus services is not unique to Chattanooga. Over one-third of school buses in the United States are owned and operated by outside contractors, and that number appears to be on the rise:

School Bus Fleet, a trade publication for school transportation officials, last year published bus statistics from all 50 states from the 2012-2013 school year. Out of about 472,000 school buses nationwide, 34.7% were owned by contractors, and the rest were owned by school boards or states, the magazine reported.

That’s up from 2007-08, when 25.6% of the nation’s school buses were owned by contractors, according to the magazine.

Hamilton County School District’s contract with Durham School Services will expire in June 2017. 


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