Warren settles bus breakdown suit

Eleven buses with ongoing maintenance problems will be replaced after the Warren Local Board of Education approved the settlement of a lawsuit against the companies that manufactured and sold it the vehicles.

Earlier this month, the district filed suit in Washington County Common Pleas Court against Trucks Sales and Service of Marietta, which sold 11 buses to the district over a three-year period; Illinois-based bus manufacturer Navistar Inc.; and Arkansas-based IC Corp., a division of Navistar; seeking damages based on breach of contract and warranty. According to the complaint, defects involving the buses’ internal cooler, turbo control box, fuel injectors and other components “cause the buses’ engines to lose significant power, delay acceleration and fail to start.”

Despite multiple repairs, the problems have continued, the suit says. A written notice revoking acceptance of the buses was sent to the local company and IC Bus in July, but a refund had not been received as of the filing of the suit on Nov. 4.

“Sometimes up to 30 days we had buses out of commission for us,” said Bob Allen, chairman of the board’s buildings and grounds committee.

“We always were able to make our rounds, but we were to the point where if another bus had gone down for whatever reason … we would have to have a bus driver run his route then go back and do a second route,” he said.

The lawsuit also cited another suit filed earlier this year by a Kentucky school district that purchased nearly 400 buses with the same type of engine, Navistar’s MaxxForce-7, and experienced similar problems.

According to Warren’s suit, at least one of the three companies knew there were problems with the engines or similar ones when the bus bids were placed with the district, despite saying in bid documents they were free from defects.

After the filing of the lawsuit, Warren Superintendent Kyle Newton entered into settlement talks with the companies, according to an addendum to the agenda for the Nov. 18 Warren Local Board of Education meeting.

At that meeting, the board unanimously approved a settlement agreement under which IC Bus and Navistar will replace the buses with similar vehicles with different engines, as well as a transmission better suited to hilly terrain, Allen said. In exchange, the district will pay the company $275,000 “for the value of the reasonable use of the buses to date.”

Allen said he was pleased with the work of Newton, transportation coordinator Lisa Spence and the district’s attorneys in reaching the settlement.

“We were concerned that if this was a prolonged negotiation or resolution of the issue that we were going to incur additional expenses as well as … being in a position where we were going to have to rent buses to have an adequate bus fleet,” he said.

Mike Love, general manager at Truck Sales and Service of Marietta, declined to comment on the situation since it involved litigation.

“We’re continuing to work with Warren,” he said.

Navistar spokeswoman Elissa Maurer said that as a matter of policy, the company does not comment on pending litigation.