Relatives of Ga. Bus Crash Victims File Claims

October 21, 2007

Attorneys have filed notice that they may sue Georgia on behalf of 16 people injured or killed in the crash of a bus carrying a college baseball team from Ohio.

Two coaches and 11 players from Bluffton University who were injured in the crash filed claims under the State Torts Claim Act, the Georgia Department of Transportation said last week in a response to a state Open Records Act request filed by The Associated Press.

The estates of Jean Niemeyer, wife of the bus driver, and players David Betts and Zachary Arend also filed claims against the state for wrongful death.

The bus crashed March 2 after it went up a left-lane exit ramp that stops on a bridge over Interstate 75 in Atlanta. The bus went off the overpass, killing five players, Niemeyer and her husband, Jerome, who drove the bus. Twenty-eight others were injured.

The notices are required by state law before lawsuits may be filed against the state of Georgia or its departments but do not necessarily mean the families will sue the state. Under Georgia law, the state has a maximum liability of $3 million for the crash, said spokesman David Spear.

The claims request “full monetary damages to compensate for pain and suffering, medical expenses incurred and all other damages available under the law.”

Matthew Bruder, an attorney with the Dayton, Ohio, law firm that represents at least eight crash victims, said filing lawsuits against the state is “premature.”

He said although the state’s maximum liability is “not enough coverage,” attorneys are trying to work with insurance carriers to make sure the injured players are “in the best position to recover.”

Bruder, whose clients include injured coaches James Grandey and Todd Miller, said the team currently is back practicing for the upcoming baseball season.

“The physical injuries are just a small part of what these kids are going through,” he said. “They still have problems. It’s the emotional aspect that still drains on them on a daily basis.”

Investigators previously said the driver apparently mistook the exit ramp for a highway lane, but the National Transportation Safety Board has not made any finding on the crash’s cause. The board’s final accident report is expected next spring, said NTSB spokeswoman Bridget Serchak.

Last month, Geneva Ann Williams, the mother of 19-year-old Tyler Williams who was killed in the crash, filed a lawsuit against the university, the company that made the bus, the city of Atlanta and the company that provided the bus and drivers for Bluffton’s team.

The baseball team was traveling to Florida for a spring tournament.

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