Bus Companies Fighting School Bus Lawsuit

Bus Companies Fighting School Bus Lawsuit

Two school bus manufacturing companies are adamantly fighting a lawsuit being filed on behalf of eleven children seriously injured in a 2003 school bus accident.  Thomas Built Busses and Merl’s Bus Sales are claiming they delivered a product that the Siloam Springs School District requested, and that was a bus with no belts. 

The crash occurred on May 19, 2003, when the bus driver George Van-Vliet veered off the road and down an embankment into several trees.  The bus, which split apart left Meng Veng, age 11 quadriplegic, Eric England, 13, with serious brain injuries and killed Jessicca Price, 14.  Several other children on the bus had injuries ranging from mild lacerations to fractures and broken bones. 

The parents of the eleven children named in the consolidated lawsuit claim that if their children had been protected by seatbelts in the accident they would not have suffered such extensive injuries.  The school bus companies disagree however, arguing that they provided a bus to the school district that met the school district’s safety standards. 

The bus was allegedly was manufactured in North Carolina in 1996 and was purchased second hand by Siloam Springs School District in 2000 from Merl’s Bus Sales.  The bus was not altered from its original condition with the exception of putting new lettering on the bus’s panels.

According to representatives for Thomas Built Busses and Merl’s Bus Sales, Arkansas Legislature “made a clear choice to reject a seat belt requirement.  Thomas and Merl’s were required to comply with that decision.”

James Freiburger, a senior staff member of Thomas Built Buses commented, that the bus company only installs seatbelts for school districts when they are requested.  “The states write their bid specifications and you put in there what they ask for.  And, if you put in there things that they don’t ask for, they won’t take the bus,” Freiburger added. 

Despite the fatal bus accident, the bus companies maintain that they are not to blame.  They were only providing a product as specified by the consumer. 

Evidence regarding Arkansas Legislature’s school bus law history does not bode well for the case.  According the motion, Arkansas Legislature decided against installing seatbelts in school buses once in 1984 following a school bus accident, and then again in 2001 when efforts again died before they could be enacted. 


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