Settlement Rejected in Fatal Church Bus Crash
By Terri Langford, April 22, 2003
A Dallas judge on Monday rejected a $5.6 million settlement plan to
resolve most claims following last summer's bus crash near Terrell
because it involved too many conflicts of interest.
District Judge Mary Murphy congratulated the group, which includes 31
minors and their parents, for the plan to resolve the case outside of
trial, she said in her decision issued Monday afternoon that she has to
make sure all the minors' interests in this case are protected.
"The court believes it would be an abuse of discretion to approve the agreement on behalf of the minors," Judge Murphy wrote.
case stems from the June 24 crash in which four youths from Metro
Church of Garland were killed when the bus they were riding to summer
church camp veered off of Interstate 20 and careened into a highway
pillar. The driver of the bus also died.
A plan to pool any
damages collected from insurance carriers and distribute them among the
plaintiffs was submitted last month to Judge Murphy, along with the
proposed settlement of $5.6 million negotiated so far.
conflicts in the settlement concerned the judge: the fact that many of
the plaintiffs are represented by the same attorney and that parents of
the children killed or injured in the June 24 crash are represented by
the same attorney.
"While the court may determine ultimately that
the agreement is in the best interests of the minors, a conflict of
interest exists between parents who are seeking damages from a limited
fund both individually and separate on behalf of their minor children,"
Judge Murphy wrote.
The settlement could still move forward if a
third party – such as guardians ad litem – reports to the judge that
the settlement is in the best interest of the children involved. Judge
Murphy could decide to appoint one or more guardians for minors to
review the settlement.
Last week, about 40 attorneys involved in
the settlement appeared before the judge. Most were there to support
the proposed settlement, which includes an arbitrator who will decide
what amount the parties get.
Two insurers – one for Metro Church
of Garland and one for Green's Transportation – have already agreed to
give the 31 minors and their parents $5.6 million. Metro Church had not
been named as a defendant, but the church's insurance carrier agreed to
contribute to the fund to avoid possible inclusion as a party in the
Absent from the plaintiffs' group are two people. One is
Nick Stout, whose head and leg injuries from the crash have totaled
more than $1 million. While the health insurance policy covering Nick
has paid for these expenses, there are many more surgeries in Nick's
future, his lawyer Mark Werbner said. At this time, Nick is still
unable to walk.
The other is the father for Amanda Maxwell, one of the four children who died in the crash.
Werbner opposed the settlement plan because too many attorneys
represent more than one of the bus passengers. He also said in last
week's hearing that very few of those who survived the crash suffered
injuries on the level of his client. Only two other passengers besides
his client suffered injuries involving more than $100,000.
very pleased with [the judge's decision] and I hope that we can get a
fair settlement for everybody who was injured," said Mr. Werbner.
Cook, the attorney that helped craft the arbitration plan, said the
judge's opinion still leaves room for the original settlement proposal.
"Far from over" is how Mr. Cook described the case. "She has basically given us a road map … and we can come back."