The parents of a 10-year-old boy, who was run over and killed by a Whitley County school bus last year, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district, the bus driver and numerous other school officials.
On March 23, 2015, Jonathan Austin Chatham was riding Whitley County school bus #993 home from school when he got off the 1999 International school bus with three other children on Highway 779.
“The victim, Jonathan Chatham, age 10, had just exited the bus, but had not cleared the bus when it began to pull out,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Craig Reed, who is an accident reconstructionist, wrote in the narrative for the traffic collision report. “The juvenile went under the bus tires on the right side of the bus.”
John Wesley Chatham and Jennifer Williams Chatham, as administrators of Jonathan Chatham’s estate, filed suit on March 22, 2016, in Whitley Circuit Court.
The lawsuit names several defendants, including: school bus driver Amanda Woliver, bus monitor Jacob N. Paul, Whitley County Schools, Superintendent Scott Paul, Deputy Superintendent Paula Trickett, Whitley County North Elementary Principal Larry Brown, Transportation Director Bobby Blakley, Vehicle Maintenance Manager Mike Mayne, driver trainer Velvet Mitchell and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, which is the district’s insurance carrier.
In addition the lawsuit names school board members Larry Lambdin, J.E. Jones, Brenda Hill, Delmar Mahan and Malorie Cooper as defendants.
“In total disregard of the duty owed to Jonathan Austin Chatham and other members of the public, the defendant, Amanda Woliver, operated the aforementioned school bus in a grossly negligent and reckless manner; failed to keep the vehicle under reasonable, safe and proper control; disregarded the rights, safety and position of others; failed to keep a proper lookout and pay proper attention; and generally failed to exercise the degree of care required,” London attorney Jason Scott Kincer alleged in the lawsuit.
“These acts and failures to act of Amanda Woliver, in operating the aforesaid school bus were done carelessly, grossly negligently, recklessly and unlawfully in total disregard for the safety of Jonathan Austin Chatham, and were a substantial factor leading to the collision on March 23, 2015, which resulted in the injuries, damages and death of Jonathan Austin Chatham.”
The lawsuit also alleged that Scott Paul, Trickett, Brown, Jacob Paul, Blakley, Mayne and Mitchell were responsible for the hiring and training of bus drivers and were negligent, careless and failed to exercise reasonable and ordinary care in a variety of manners, including properly training and supervising Woliver in the use of school bus owned by the school district.
In addition, the lawsuit alleged that Whitley County Schools and the Whitley County Board of Education negligently, carelessly, recklessly, wrongfully, unlawfully and with gross negligence serviced and maintained the bus in question as to cause it to be in a dangerous and unsafe condition at the time of the accident and that this was a “substantial factor” leading to Jonathan Austin Chatham’s injuries, damages and death.
The lawsuit alleged that Scott Paul, Trickett, Brown, Jacob Paul, Blakley, Mayne, Mitchell and the board of education members were all negligent, careless, reckless and negligent by failing to service and maintain the bus making it dangerous and unsafe.
However, the lawsuit didn’t allege what was wrong with the bus at the time of the accident.
The narrative on the Kentucky State Police traffic collision report, which was included as an exhibit with the lawsuit, makes no mention of any mechanical problems or issues with the bus.
The collision report lists “none detected” under vehicular factors, but notes two human factors, “failed to yield right of way” and “inattention.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of earning capacity, funeral expenses and emotional distress in addition to punitive damages for “gross negligence.”
In addition the lawsuit seeks a trial by jury, interest and attorney fees.
“The actions and/or inactions of the defendant(s), each of them individually and/or in combination, described herein demonstrated a wanton, willful, grossly negligent and/or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of the decedent, Jonathan Austin Chatham, and were carried out with a subjective awareness that said conduct could and would result in serious physical injury and/or death of the decedent and plaintiff and/or similarly situated persons,” Kincer alleged in the lawsuit.
So far no response has been filed to the lawsuit.
Tim Crawford, the attorney for the school district, said Friday that the school system had received notice of the lawsuit and had forwarded the information onto the district’s insurance carrier.
He said officials are currently reviewing all the allegations in the lawsuit and would have no further comment on it at this time.
Kentucky State Police presented evidence concerning the accident to a Whitley County Grand Jury this past December, which issued no indictment or no true bill against Woliver in connection with the case.
(Editor’s note: The Jacob N. Paul listed in the lawsuit is not Jacob Scott Paul, who is the son of Superintendent Scott Paul.)