Exactly two years after an accident involving members of the Gulf Shores High School band at the start of the city’s Fat Tuesday parade, four nearly identical lawsuits have been filed over injuries sustained by band members.
Two of the lawsuits named dollar amounts, one for $500,000 and another for $300,000 in three $100,000 counts. The remaining two asked for “reasonable amount of compensatory damages and an amount of punitive damages to punish and deter the Defendants in the future and costs in this matter.”
Among those listed as defendants are the city of Gulf Shores, parade coordinator Erica Bassett, American Legion Post 44 in Gulf Shores and the Military Officer’s Association of America (MOAA) national and Baldwin chapters.
Suing on behalf of their minor children, who are not named in the suit, are Michael Diehl and Carol Clark on behalf of their daughter; Victoria Eginton on behalf of her son; Stacey D. Roberts and Linda Shay Roberts on behalf of their son; and James Tierney on behalf of his daughter.
The Roberts’ suit says organizers were “negligent and/or wanton on Feb. 28, 2017, in the marketing, preparation, organization, supervision, control, training, procedures and overall operation and/or coordination of the Mardi Gras parade and/or which caused or contributed to injuries and damages sustained by the Plaintiff and others.”
At the start of the Fat Tuesday parade, the Roberts lawsuit says, there was supposed to be a golf cart and the displaying of the color guard in front of the Gulf Shores High School band.
“As the aforementioned Defendants’ color guard led the parade, there was no golf cart following the color guard, as provided and specified by the permit,” the suit claims. “Next in line, the Gulf Shores High School band turned on to Gulf Shores Parkway. Within seconds thereafter, a large SUV driven by Lawrence Rathbun, an authorized agent for the aforementioned Defendants, American Legion and MOAA, entered the parade procession and began to run over members of the Gulf Shores marching band.”
At least 12 students were injured, four critically, although none except Hannah Diehl were mentioned in news reports. She was interviewed in a TV news report in the days following the accident and talked about her injuries.
At the time of the crash, the police department called the incident a “tragic accident.” The parade was immediately canceled.
“As a proximate result of the Defendants’ negligence, wantonness and/or other tortious conduct as set forth herein, Plaintiff H.D. was caused to suffer injuries and damages,” the Diehl-Clark lawsuit states. “She was permanently injured; she was caused to suffer severe physical pain and mental anguish, still so suffers and will so suffer in the future; she was caused to incur doctor bills, hospital bills and other medical expenses in and about the care and treatment of her injuries and she will be caused to incur such expenses in the future as well as other past and future economic losses, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of earning capacity and other damages.”
The Diehl lawsuit seeks $500,000. The Roberts’ lawsuit seeks $300,000 and the Eginton and Tierney lawsuits don’t specify dollar amounts sought.
Police Chief Ed Delmore said there was no evidence Rathbun, 73 at the time, was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and there were no signs the incident was intentional.
TV news reports from the time suggested he may have accidentally pressed the accelerator instead of the brakes. The lawsuits claim he did not own the vehicle he was driving that day. He faced no criminal charges.
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