On March 2, 2007, at 5:38 AM, a charter bus from Ohio carrying the Bluffton University baseball team to a tournament in Florida went off a confusingly marked HOV exit from I-75 at Northside Drive in Atlanta. When I traveled to Columbus, Ohio in July 2011,  I participated in the mediation that produced the final settlement of all claims arising from that crash.

A total of $25 million was paid to resolve the claims of all occupants of thes, settled in three stages:

  • First,  the insurer for Executive Coach, the bus company, tendered the $5 million policy limit required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration,  and  the Georgia Department of Transportation paid $3 million,  the maximum payable under the Georgia State Tort Claims Act .
  • Second, after the Ohio Supreme Court rules that the university’s insurance policies also covered the bus driver because the coach retained control over the driver, insurers for the university with policy limits of $1 million and $5 million tendered their policy limits to the  group of plaintiffs.
  • Third, the third and final layer of liability coverage for the university was $15 million with Federal Insurance Company.  After two days of mediation in Columbus, Ohio, Federal agreed to pay  an additional $11 million.

I won’t disclose how much was paid to each individual, but suffice it to say that most money went to the death and brain injury cases, and the balance was apportioned to several classes according to seriousness of injury. I was local counsel for ten of surviving team members.

Prior to settlement, this tragedy led to changes in highway signage standards and movement toward requiring seat belts on tour buses in the US. As with most things in Congress, however, improved bus safety standards are still blocked.

Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, and lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice.  His Atlanta-based civil trial practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of castastrophic personal injury and wrongful death.