The Wake County school system will pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a Garner High School freshman who was struck and killed by a car in 2013 as she walked to her school bus stop.
The family of Maria Fernandez Jimenez accused the school system of negligence in setting up a bus stop that had students cross a road with a 55 mph speed limit in the dark. In announcing the settlement this week, school officials denied liability in the 14-year-old’s death but said it was not worth the cost of contesting the lawsuit.
A similar reason was given by Doug DeBank, the attorney for Terri L. Guttery of Willow Springs, the driver who hit Jimenez. Guttery was dropped from the lawsuit in December after settling the case. DeBank wouldn’t discuss the amount, but court records show Guttery offered to pay $100,000.
“It was simply a settlement made in the best interests of the insured even though she was not at fault.” DeBank said Thursday.
Jimenez was crossing N.C. 50/Benson Road just ahead of her 16-year-old brother when she was struck around 6:30 a.m. on March 25, 2013. The collision happened near the school bus that the State Highway Patrol said was stopped to pick up students.
The bus stop was located two miles south of Garner at the intersection of Benson Road and JR Drive, across the street from Jimenez’ house.
No charges were filed against Guttery. According to the accident report, Jimenez ran out in front of Guttery’s car, which was traveling in the opposite direction of the stopped bus.
“There were two eyewitnesses who were directly behind the bus who said there was simply no way she could have avoided the incident,” DeBank said. “The children ran across the road in the dark.”
The yellow lights that indicate a bus is slowing down had been on at the time of the accident, but the red lights and stop arm had not been activated, according to the accident report.
In the lawsuit filed September 2014 in Wake County Superior Court, Jimenez’ family says Wake failed to use reasonable care in creating a “dangerous bus stop” that required students to cross a 55 mph road in the dark.
The school system “placed a higher priority on efficiency than on student safety in determining the placement of said Bus Stop,” the lawsuit said.
After the accident, an additional bus stop was placed in front of the family’s home so that students no longer had to cross Benson Road in the morning.
The additional bus stop was added to accommodate the grieving family and not based on a determination that the location was dangerous, according to Tim Simmons, a Wake schools’ spokesman.
Marie Lang, the attorney for the Jimenez family, could not be reached for comment Thursday.