Donnie Hendricks, a 74-year-old school bus driver, and Megan Klindt, a 16-year-old student, were the only two people aboard a school bus that caught fire in Pottawattamie County. School officials explained that Hendricks had limited physical mobility. It is unclear why Klindt was unable to exit the bus amid the fire that took both of their lives. Klindt's family has since filed a claim of wrongful death against the Riverside School District based on negligence.
Cause of Fire
The bus apparently had become lodged in a ditch shortly after Klindt had boarded that created a fire. Klindt's mother, Natalie, heard the commotion and unsuccessfully attempted to assist the two. The National Transportation Safety Board has posted an interim report that indicated the fire quickly spread throughout the vehicle. Hendricks died while partially hanging outside of a bus window. Some officials believe that Megan Klindt may have initially attempted to rescue the driver.
Driver's Physical Condition
Hendricks was scheduled to have back surgery in a few days. He had been enduring various medical conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, and significant back problems. Another bus driver reported that Hendricks often walked with a cane, particularly if going longer distances. The attorney representing the plaintiffs suggests that the school district was likely aware that Hendricks was not capable of safely operating the bus.
Emergency responders found a fire extinguisher on the floor near the driver's area. The Iowa School Transportation Code specifies that fire extinguishers are to be “readily accessible” for all of those on the vehicle. Investigators suspect that the extinguisher was improperly stored. It is believed to have been stored in a compartment that did not have any markings located near the rearview mirror.
Wrongful Death Claim
- The lawsuit states that Hendricks owed a duty to care for the plaintiff
- The claim asserts that this duty was not maintained according to standards
- Klindt's death is said to be the result of negligence
- The Riverside School District is also alleged to have been vicariously liable in the matter
- The claim is also seeking damages for “infliction of severe emotional distress”
- Natalie Klindt is said to have endured emotional distress as she witnessed her daughter's death
Response from School District
A school principal was reported to have stated that the driver was “unlikely to be able to self-extricate” based on his physical conditions. The Iowa Department of Education guidelines requires that all bus drivers are to be in a physical condition that would allow them to properly operate the bus and also to assist any passengers who may be in need of assistance. The plaintiff attorney explained that the tragedy was partially attributed to negligence in adhering to the guidelines.
The concept of vicarious liability holds that an employer may be deemed as indirectly liable for harm that is caused by their employees when they are working on behalf of the organization. The term “respondeat superior” translates in Latin to “let the master answer.” The doctrine states that employers have some responsibility when their employees demonstrate negligence when they are acting within the framework of their normal work duties.