Baltimore's school system and a contracted bus company could be open to legal liability if they were aware of the driving and medical history of the driver involved in last month's deadly crash in Southwest Baltimore, legal observers said Wednesday.
Preliminary findings of a National Transportation Safety Board incident report show the driver previously had "seizure-like episodes" and was involved in at least 12 crashes in the past five years.
"The driver never should have been in any position where he was driving a school bus," said Kevin Goldberg, a Silver Spring-based attorney who handles accident cases.
Chappell's medical history and previous crashes were among the main findings in an incident report released Wednesday by the NTSB. Chappell, 67, was driving a school bus that struck a Ford Mustang and then a Maryland Transit Administration bus on Frederick Avenue on Nov. 1. Chappell and five others were killed and 11 people were injured.
The NTSB report also found that Chappell suffered a medical emergency that witnesses described as a seizure at the school bus company's office one week before the crash, investigators said.
Goldberg said attorneys for the victims could have a case against Chappell's employer, the AAAfordable Transportation bus company, but only if they can show the company had knowledge of his crash history and medical condition.
George Bogris, a lawyer representing AAAfordable, declined to comment Wednesday, and officials with the company could not be reached for comment.
Baltimore school officials said in a statement that they will continue to "review and tighten processes and practices involving provision of contracted bus transportation for students."
They declined further comment, citing "impending litigation related to the accident."
To date, no lawsuits have been filed in connection with the crash, online court records show.
AAAfordable Transportation, based in Southwest Baltimore, was one of seven companies contracted by Baltimore schools to transport students. The school system severed its relationship with the company three weeks after the crash.
Goldberg said it would be more difficult for victims to sue the school system.
"The way I see it, the school system delegated its duty to the bus company," Goldberg said.
Attorney Dan Whitney Sr. said a claim against the school system would be "more remote," and a plaintiff's attorney would have to prove the school system was aware of Chappell's medical condition and driving history.
Whitney said the school bus company should review employees' driving records periodically.
The responsibility for reporting seizures or any other medical condition of concern falls on drivers and their employers, federal and state regulators have said.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires drivers to disclose any medical conditions when they apply for a certificate stating they are healthy enough to drive. Doctors who have been trained to conduct driver physicals also ask applicants about any medical issues that might not be physically apparent.
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration also asks for medical history information, and keeps driver medical certificates on file. At least seven times, Chappell testified in MVA forms that he had no medical conditions that needed to be reported, agency spokesman Chuck Brown said.
The MVA was revoking Chappell's commercial driving privileges at the time of the crash because he hadn't updated the certificate.
Both agencies warn drivers when they sign the disclosures that providing incomplete or inaccurate information is considered perjury.
Drivers' employers also are required to keep the medical certificates on file. AAAfordable has said it had received an updated medical certificate from Chappell in June.