LARIMORE, N.D.-Larimore Public Schools and its insurance provider are asking a federal court to divvy up a pot of money owed to victims and others in the fatal January accident in which a train crashed into a Larimore school bus.
An action filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in North Dakota lists about two dozen individuals and companies who may have a stake in $500,000-the maximum amount in damages allowed by state law in this case-including the parents of the 13 children aboard the bus, BNSF Railway, several health care providers and some insurance companies.
The action notes the $500,000 is "insufficient" to cover all damages to which the two dozen people and companies may lay claim.
On Jan. 5, an empty BNSF train crashed into a school bus at a railroad crossing east of Larimore, leaving the bus driver Max Danner, 62, and high school senior Cassidy Sandstrom, 17, dead and sending 10 children to regional hospitals.
An investigation by the North Dakota Highway Patrol found the cause of the crash was driver error, saying Danner did not stop at the stop sign at the train tracks. The investigation found Danner did not suffer from any medical complications at the time of the crash, as was widely speculated.
Dan Gaustad is the lawyer representing Larimore Public School District and the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, with the School District expected to be held liable for the crash.
Gaustad filed the legal action, which asks the court to establish a pool of money and to decide which individuals and companies receive what piece of the $500,000, which likely will not cover all of the claims resulting from the crash.
"It allows for an orderly distribution of funds," Gaustad said, saying it gives everybody a chance at a piece of the pie.
Larimore Public Schools Superintendent Roger Abbe said the medical expenses for some families will be high, not to mention damages families could claim for losing a family member or for pain and suffering experienced as a result of the crash.
Insurance companies that reimbursed families for medical expenses may also seek a piece of the $500,000.
The court would ultimately decide who is entitled to what portion of the $500,000, Gaustad said.
That way, everyone's claims would be resolved at one time rather than separately, which could lead to individuals being cut out of their piece of the $500,000.
"We don't want multiple lawsuits going on by multiple parties," Gaustad said. "We want everyone to present their claim within one (court) proceeding."
Gaustad said the process of reimbursing the victims' families, BNSF, the insurance companies and the medical providers is in the early stages.
He said he did not know how long it would take to divvy up the damages.
North Dakota legislators unanimously passed a bill in March that raised the ceiling on the amount in damages a school district-and other public entities-may pay out for injuries resulting from a single accident-no matter how many accident victims are involved.
The law had not been updated since 1971, but Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the revised bill into law in March, raising the cap from $500,000 to $1 million.
The outdated law was brought to legislators' attention by the crash in Larimore. One proponent of the bill to raise the cap called the $500,000 cap "grossly inadequate."