The family of a student musician hurt in the crash of a Farmingdale High School bus last month has filed a notice of claim against the school district, in what appears to be the first legal action taken against the district stemming from the tragedy.
The Tuesday filing also appears to be the first to put a specific monetary value on the damage caused by the crash: $10 million for injuries including broken bones, head wounds and disfigurement to a 14-year-old freshman saxophone player, along with $2 million for damages to her parents and the cost of her medical and psychological care.
“The district had a responsibility to act as parents would in making a reasonable choice in selecting the bus operator company to transport their children, and parents relied on that — to their detriment,” said Manhattan-based lawyer Joel Robinson, representing parents Kimberly and Corey Ellis, of Farmingdale, and their daughter, identified only by the initials V.E.
In an unsigned statement provided by a representative, district officials said lawyers had advised them not to comment on the lawsuit.
“Our focus has been and will continue to be, doing whatever we can to bring our community together and provide the resources that will help us all cope with the emotions and trauma associated with this tragedy, both individually and collectively,” said the statement, in part.
Kimberly Ellis, reached by phone Tuesday, declined to comment.
Two recent lawsuits filed by parents of victims targeted bus operator Nesconset-based Regency Transportation and driver Lisa Schaffer. The notice of claim, served Tuesday on school district clerk Mary Rogers, does not name the company or the driver.
A notice of claim is only required when suing a government entity.
Farmingdale “recklessly” failed to tell parents that Regency had been placed by New York State “in the unacceptable rated category of bus operators” and failed to ensure the bus was “safely and properly owned,” the filing alleges. It also alleges the district did not properly train personnel in safety procedures and did not require students to wear seat belts.
In an interview, Robinson said Regency said the district also “allowed these kids to be transported with a company that didn’t even have good insurance — they had terrible insurance.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has an ongoing probe into the cause of the crash. State and federal inspection records show differing views of the bus company’s safety record.
Regency could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Robinson described the Ellis family as “distraught,” ahead of a planned surgery for the girl identified as V.E. Aside from her injuries, he said, “there’s a psychological component, which can sometimes last longer than physical injuries, or be worse.”
Farmingdale’s high school band was headed for a weekend band camp Sept. 21 when one of its rented buses crashed on Interstate 84 in rural Orange County, toppling down a 50-foot embankment. Dozens of students were injured and two adults, band director Gina Pellettiere, 43 and chaperone Beatrice Ferrari, 77, were killed. Pellettiere left a 2-year-old orphan son.