Family seeks damages after 2011 school bus crash

GREENFIELD — Family members of a former Mt. Vernon student are suing the school corporation after their daughter sustained injuries in a bus accident four years ago, saying the district should be held responsible for the costs of her medical expenses, according to a complaint filed in Hancock Circuit Court.

McCordsville resident Jim Houser said his daughter was a fifth-grader aboard a Mt. Vernon Community Schools bus that slammed into another of the district’s buses one afternoon in May 2011, an incident that sent nearly 30 students to the hospital with minor injuries.

Years after the accident, an orthodontist found damage to his daughter’s jawbone consistent with mild blunt force trauma, he said. The only time the child would have suffered an injury of that nature was when she hit her mouth on a seat during the accident, Houser said. She was 11 at the time.

Following the crash, police said the bus driver was distracted by a passenger and did not see the bus ahead brake for a car that was turning near the intersection of county roads 600N and 600W in McCordsville.

The driver of the second bus attempted to apply the brakes but couldn’t stop fast enough to avoid rear-ending the one ahead, police said. The two buses collided, with one ending up in a cornfield.

About 110 Mt. Vernon students were on the two buses, and all the children were examined by first-responders at a makeshift triage area organized at the scene. No one was seriously injured, but dozens of students were taken to area hospitals for further examination as police worked to ensure their safety.

Houser’s daughter, who is now a 15-year-old sophomore at a high school in Indianapolis, didn’t complain much about pain following the crash. Years later, when he and his wife took her to get braces, Houser said the orthodontist found bits of the girl’s jawbone had broken away, and the bone had shifted slightly. The family has been treating the injury with special dental work, but family members are becoming increasingly concerned that surgery will be needed, he said.

The family visited “hospitals and medical practitioners, dentists and orthodontists and incurred medical expenses” because of the accident, the complaint states.

Now, the family is calling upon Mt. Vernon to cover the girl’s past and future medical expenses, stating the district neglected the child’s safety.

“MVSC was negligent and careless in supervising, maintaining and providing a safe premise and environment for those children under its care, or on its premise,” the complaint states.

Mt. Vernon Superintendent Shane Robbins declined to comment about the accident, noting it occurred before he joined the district this year.

The school district has consulted with its insurance company, which appointed a special attorney, Matthew Bruno of Indianapolis, to handle the case, Robbins said. Any settlement would come from the district’s liability insurance, Robbins said.

The lawsuit does not mention how much money the family is seeking from the school district. Houser said he is leaving that decision up the family’s attorney, William Hurst of Indianapolis.

“I don’t know how you put a price on someone’s pain and suffering,” Houser said.

Hancock Circuit Judge Richard Culver has ordered the district and the Housers to attend mediation in an attempt to settle the case out of court, according to court records. A tentative trial date has been set for March 22.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.