CHARLESTON – Larry Jackson helped son Timothy break a travel rule of the Winfield High School show choir.
But when a crash killed Timothy, his parents blamed the Putnam County Board of Education.
The parents tried to sue the school board. But on May 24, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that they could not.
The Justices affirmed Circuit Judge Edward Eagloski, who in 2005 granted summary judgment in the board's favor.
In September 2001, Timothy and about 40 other students joined the show choir. Some signed up for credit, some for pleasure.
Director Jeffrey Haught gave them handbooks. He said they had to read them and so did their parents.
Haught gave them permission statements and health forms to cover rehearsals, shows and trips all year. He said parents had to sign them.
To their delight, he announced a retreat for the last weekend of September at Rippling Waters Campgrounds near Sissonville.
Through a flyer, he told parents the group would not take a bus. He asked for advance notice of each student's plan for the 40-mile journey.
"Parents are discouraged from allowing students to drive other students without parental accompaniment," Haught wrote, referring them to the handbook which stated, "Members will present to the director in writing prior to the trip how they will arrive at the event, who will be driving and who will be riding with them."
It also said Haught's liability was limited to the period from arrival at an event to dismissal from the event.
"Parents should exercise their wisdom, good judgment and discretion when planning travel arrangements," the handbook stated.
Neither of Timothy's parents sent Haught a plan for the trip. Neither parent sent a permission statement or a health form.
As the trip approached, Haught received a note from Timothy. He wrote that he would ride with his father.
On departure day, Larry Jackson signed the permission statement. It indicated that he read the handbook and would abide by it. He signed the health form. It indicated that he released all claims from rehearsing, performing or traveling.
Show choir member Brian Ramsburg rolled up to Timothy's home in his pickup truck. Timothy climbed in and away they went.
The retreat ended at six on Sunday. Haught expected Larry Jackson to pick Timothy up, but Timothy rode off with Brian.
On Interstate 77, Brian drove too fast. He lost control. The pickup turned over. Timothy Jackson died.
Larry Jackson and wife Susan Jackson settled claims with the insurer of Brian's family and with their own insurer.
Almost two years after the crash, four days before the statute of limitations would have run, Susan Jackson sued the Board of Education. She claimed the board should have provided a bus.
Larry Jackson stated in a deposition that he and Timothy decided he would ride with Brian. He said he watched them leave.
The Board of Education moved in 2004 for summary judgment. Eagloski granted it in 2005.
He found Larry Jackson negligent, though he noted that Brian Ramsburg's negligence broke any chain of causation to the father's negligence.
He wrote that even if the board had a duty to take a bus, Ramsburg's negligence broke any chain of causation to the board's negligence.
On appeal Bernard Layne III, Greg Lord and Sharon McKeny Lord of Charleston represented Jackson.
They argued that Haught would have taken a bus if he had followed the school policy manual. They submitted portions of the manual.
For the Board of Education, Stephen Fowler, Julie Meeks and Travis Griffith of Charleston moved to strike the submission.
They argued that Eagloski did not admit the manual.
Last September, the Justices struck the manual. Two weeks later, they heard oral arguments on summary judgment.
They took longer than usual to reach a decision.
They split 3-2. No one signed the opinion, but one can guess who wrote it because four Justices reserved the right to file their own opinions.
Chief Justice Robin Davis and Justice Spike Maynard reserved the right to file concurring opinions. Justices Joseph Albright and Larry Starcher dissented and reserved the right to file dissenting opinions. That leaves Justice Brent Benjamin as the apparent author.
The opinion stated that the Legislature authorizes county school boards to provide transportation but the Legislature does not mandate it.
It stated that the Court found no error in Eagloski's determination that there was no duty to provide transportation to Rippling Waters.