OAKLAND, Iowa — A school district here has agreed to a $4.8 million settlement with the family of a student who died in a 2017 school bus fire that also killed the bus driver, ABC News reports.
As School Bus Fleet previously reported, the fire occurred on Dec. 12, 2017 when 74-year-old bus driver Donald Hendricks turned from a rural gravel road onto a driveway to pick up 16-year-old Megan Klindt at the farm where she lived in a rural area near the small town of Oakland.
According to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in January 2018, as Hendricks reversed out the driveway, the bus’s rear wheels dropped into a 3-foot-deep ditch. While he attempted to drive the bus out of the ditch, a fire began in the engine compartment and spread throughout the school bus.
As previously reported, Klindt’s family sued for negligence and wrongful death in 2018. The family said that the district knew Hendricks was not medically fit and still allowed him to drive the bus, according to ABC News. The trial in the lawsuit was scheduled to start on March 3 in Pottawattamie County District Court.
The NTSB’s final report, released last June, determined that the probable cause of the fire was due to Hendricks’ failure to maintain control of the bus and failure of Riverside Community School District to provide adequate oversight by allowing a driver with a known physical impairment to operate a school bus. The agency’s report also included several safety recommendations, including one to require states to adopt mandatory physical performance testing for all bus drivers and another to require fire suppression systems on all school buses.
Tim Mitchell, the superintendent for Riverside Community School District, released a statement on Jan. 24 about reaching a settlement with the Klindt family.
Mitchell said in the statement that "The parties recognize that no amount of money can represent this loss. However, the district’s sincere hope is that resolving this matter will assist the family and community in gaining closure for this devastating event.”
An attorney for the district had declined to reveal the amount of the settlement, saying the details were confidential, ABC News reports. However, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council released the agreement, which was obtained by the news source, saying under Iowa’s public records law, such settlements must be made public. The agreement reportedly shows that two of the district’s insurers will split payment of the settlement.
The NTSB’s findings in the fatal school bus fire sparked several calls for safety improvements throughout the industry. As SBF previously reported in September, Maine announced that it was considering adopting new physical fitness requirements for the state’s school bus drivers, as well as requirements for seat belts on all large school buses and uniform standards for annual driver physicals.