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Ohio Supreme Court Settles Insurance Issue for Bluffton Baseball Deaths

Bus accidents can be deadly. The tragic 2007 bus crash involving the Bluffton University baseball team is one example. During the team's spring trip to Florida, their charter bus driver mistakenly entered an Atlanta off ramp at an excessive rate of speed before the bus flipped over a barrier and landed upside down on a highway 20 feet below. The driver, his wife and five members of the Bluffton team were killed, and many others suffered serious injuries in the sudden and violent motor vehicle accident.

In the aftermath of such an accident, families endure tremendous grief as they attempt to understand what happened. Investigators assess the accident scene, black box evidence and witness accounts to compile evidence. In situations where serious injury and death occurs, a long legal battle typically ensues as victims try to learn what went wrong and determine who is responsible and who will pay.

More than three years after the Bluffton tragedy, the Ohio Supreme Court has made a final ruling on a preliminary matter of insurance coverage. Several of the injured players as well as administrators of the estates of those who were killed argued that a broad array of the University's insurance coverage was triggered by the accident. The policies in question increased the liability limit from $1 million for Bluffton's commercial automobile policy to over $20 million when commercial umbrella coverage is activated. 

The trial court and the Court of Appeals of Ohio disagreed with the plaintiffs, holding in favor of the insurers. But the Supreme Court of Ohio held that the wrongful death and personal injury actions were covered by the larger policies, basing its reversal of the lower courts on a conclusion that the charter driver was an "insured" under the terms of the policies.

Diligently Asserting Clients' Interests at Trial and on Appeal

A personal injury attorney's role extends far beyond simply arguing about what went wrong, who caused the harm and how much damage resulted. Determinations of liability and assessments of damages are certainly crucial to an injured client's case. But in cases where the amount of damages exceeds a standard insurance policy, counsel can make a considerable difference by identifying other liable parties or other sources of coverage for the primary party at fault.

As the present case reveals, a good law firm must be extremely diligent. Early setbacks notwithstanding, a good lawyer must hold fast to his or her legal arguments when a client's interests and right to sufficient compensation hang in the balance in negotiations, at trial or on appeal.

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