Is Bluffton University responsible for the 2007 bus crash that killed seven people, including five of its baseball players, or does blame rest solely with the company whose bus sped over an overpass and landed on the highway below?
The Ohio Supreme Court wrestled with that question yesterday, with the debate coming down to the definition of the word hire.
There's no dispute that Bluffton University paid Ottawa, Ohio-based Executive Coach Luxury Travel to drive its baseball players to a tournament in Florida.
But attorneys for the university's insurance carrier and two of the accident victims clashed over whether the university had "hired" the bus, which would make it liable for the accident. A trial court and the 3rd District Court of Appeals approved dismissal of the lawsuit against the university's insurer, saying there had been no "hire" of the bus.
The driver for Executive Coach apparently mistook a freeway exit ramp as a carpool lane and plunged the bus onto the highway below in the early hours of March 2, 2007. The accident killed five student athletes, as well as the driver and his wife.
Steven R. Smith, the attorney for the estate of one of the accident victims, said that not only had the university hired the bus, but the baseball coach gave "permission" - another catchword in the insurance policy - to the bus driver.
"This court knows that the insurers control every comma and every period of the insurance policy," Smith said.
D. John Travis, the attorney for Federal Insurance Co., one of the university's carriers, said the university had not hired a bus any more than he would hire a taxi to take him to his hotel.
"Somebody's got to maintain control, and here it was Executive Coach, because they're the ones who controlled the methods and the means," Travis said.
The court is expected to issue its decision in several months.
By James Nash, email@example.com
Source: The Columbus Dispatch