Student hit by a car after running into street to catch school bus. $36.1M. San Bernardino County.

Summary

Student runs into traffic to catch school bus, is hit by car.  Plaintiff claims bus driver did not follow policy and procedure.

The Case

  • Case Name: Isabella Escamilla Sanchez, a minor, by and through her guardian ad litem, Carina Sanchez; v. County of San Bernardino, a public entity; City of Highland, a public entity; et al.
  • Court and Case Number: : San Bernardino Superior Court / 1309504
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, September 21, 2017
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, August 08, 2013
  • Type of Action: Vehicles - vs. Pedestrian
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. John M. Pacheco
  • Plaintiffs:
    Isabella Escamilla Sanchez, minor student.
  • Defendants:
    County of San Bernardino
    City of Highland
    San Bernardino City Unified School District
    Bonnie Oehl Elementary School
    Shanita Cottia Mason, bus driver.
    Lillian Thanh Vo, defendant driver.
    Durham School Services
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $36,143,291.
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Settlement with defendant driver Ms. Vo for $50,000  which court did not approve until the end of the trial, so she remained in the case. 

    Judgment was entered  in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $32,943,291 from Defendant Durham School Services, L.P., $24,943,291 of that amount is also jointly and severally recovered from defendant bus driver, Shanita Cottia Mason; plus costs as yet undetermined.

    The $32,943,291 figure represents the total verdict with 20% of the non-economic damages reduced by Carina Sanchez’s 20% comparative fault. 

    The School District is out on MSJ,but there is an appeal pending.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 20% to plaintiff's mother, Carina Sanchez.
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP by Geoffrey S. Wells and Ivan Puchalt, Santa Monica.

    Law Offices of Andy Basseri by Andy Basseri, Beverly Hills.

     

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Law Offices of Norman R. Nadel by Robert S. Rubin, Los Angeles.

    Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila, LLP by Kathleen A. Stimeling, San Francisco.

    Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, LLP by John Lowenthal and Amy R. Freeland, San Bernardino.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Stanford Shu, pediatric neurology, San Bernardino.

    Warren W. Boling, Jr., M.D., neurosurgery, Loma Linda.

    Dr. Hrayr Basmajian, orthopedic surgery, Loma Linda.

    Carol Hyland, M.A., M.S., life care planning, Lafayette.

    Vera Dolan, life expectancy, Las Vegas, NV.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    D. Alan Shewmon, M.D., pediatric Neurology, Los Angeles.

    Kimberly K. BeDell, M.D., physiatry.

    Edward L. Bennett, M.A., CRC, life care planning, Oxnard.

    Scott Kush, M.D., life expectancy, Palo Alto.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Joellen Gill, human factors, Mica, WA.

    Robert Berkstresser, busing, San Diego.

    David King, P.E., accident reconstruction, Laguna Hills.

    Tamorah Hunt, economics, Santa Ana.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Jon Landerville, PE, accident reconstruction.

    Susan Kay Reese, busing, San Diego.

    Jason A. Engel, CPA, economics.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On the morning of October 3, 2012, plaintiff, six-year-old Isabella Escamilla Sanchez, attempted to cross 9th street mid-block to get to the bus stop where her school bus was en route to Bonnie Oehl Elementary School in Highland. The driver of a Subaru Impreza struck the child, causing catastrophic injuries that include a traumatic brain injury and fractures to her neck, arm, leg and pelvis.

    The Sanchez family sued Durham School Services for failing to report and prevent mid-street crossings, which is a blatant violation of their own policies and procedures. It was a common practice for parents and students to cross 9th street mid-block directly in front of the Durham bus. Isabella’s traumatic brain injury requires 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) care for the rest of her life.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That this tragedy could have been avoided had the Durham bus driver warned parents and students about the dangers of mid-block crossing. All the parents with children at the same bus stop testified at trial that they never used the controlled intersection near the stop because they didn’t realize the danger and always crossed in the middle of the block.

    Parents testified that they frequently crossed the street in plain view of Durham bus drivers who never took steps to prevent this behavior. The San Bernardino School District’s transportation director stated at trial that the drivers are the “eyes and ears for the school district” and that the district relies on drivers to report dangerous conditions at bus stops including unsafe mid-block crossings.

    Witnesses for both Durham and the district testified that an effective progressive discipline process is in place which begins with a verbal warning to parents and a written report and can escalate to students losing bus privileges if the behavior is not corrected. The bus company has to not only warn, but also instruct parents not to cross mid block, and even report it so parents can be counseled and then have the students' bus passes suspended if the jaywalking does not stop. However, in order for the process to work, the dangerous behavior has to first be reported by drivers. According to testimony, the bus drivers never notified the district of the mid-block crossings.

    Plaintiff also argued that even though Isabella ran into the street, she was following a path to her bus in the middle of the block which was taken by her and other children every day without intervention by Durham bus drivers. Isabella’s mother, Carina Sanchez also accepted a portion of the responsibility for the accident at trial, and her attorneys argued that Durham should also accept its own share of responsibility for allowing this conduct to occur for two months unchecked.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants argued to the jury that Durham School Services did not cause Isabella to dart out into the street and that the sole cause of the incident was Isabella’s own decision to run into the street combined with her mother's failure to properly train her on how to cross the street. Durham also argued that Durham bus drivers never witnessed the mid-block crossings prior to the subject incident and therefore did not have notice in order to address the situation.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Traumatic brain injury and fractures to her neck, arm, leg and pelvis. Isabella’s traumatic brain injury requires constant Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) care for the rest of her life.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: $20,000,000
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $2,000,000 offered by defendant Durham.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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