High school student struck by car at school bus stop; $9.8 million. El Dorado County.

Summary

Teenager waiting for bus is struck by vehicle; claims bus stop was in dangerous spot. School district and county settle out before trial for $5.06 million.

The Case

  • Case Name: Carly Bray v. Kassandra Hoelscher
  • Court and Case Number: El Dorado County Superior Court / PC20120677
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, January 22, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, December 20, 2012
  • Type of Action: Dangerous Condition Public Property, Vehicles - vs. Pedestrian
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Daniel Proud
  • Plaintiffs:
    Carly Bray, 17, student
  • Defendants:
    Kassandra Hoelscher
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $9,860,630.86
  • Net Verdict or Award: After credit for pre-trial settlements, the net judgment against the defendant is approximately $4,800,000.
  • Settlement Amount: Prior to trial, plaintiff settled with El Dorado Union High School District for $4,500,000 and County of El Dorado for $560,000.
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 50% defendant driver; 45% El Dorado Union High School District; and 5% County of El Dorado.
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 3 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.
  • Jury Polls: No jury poll.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Dreyer, Babich, Buccola Wood & Campora, LLP by Jason J. Sigel, Catia G. Saraiva and Robert A. Buccola, Sacramento.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    The Biernat Law Group by James Biernat, Burlingame.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Sanjog S. Pangarkar, M.D., Los Angeles.

    Charles L. Scott, M.D., forensic psychiatry, Sacramento.

    Carol Hyland, life care & vocational rehabilitation, Lafayette.

    Paul Gregory, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Carmichael.

     

     

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Robert Caldwell, P.E., accident reconstruction, Lafayette, CO.

    Elizabeth Austin, Ph.D., atmospheric physics/meteorology, Incline Village.

    Sean Shimada, Ph.D., biomechanics, Davis.

    Richard F. Ryan, P.E., traffic safety engineering, Vancouver, WA.

    Richard Barnes, forensic economist, CPA/ABV/CFF.

    John Michael, Med, CPO/L, prosthetic care, Chicago, IL.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Kim Nystrom, P.E., traffic safety engineering, Granite Bay.

    Devinder S. Grewal, Ph.D., P.E., accident reconstruction, Berkeley.

     

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On March 1, 2012, plaintiff Carly Bray, 17, was waiting for her school bus at a bus stop at the intersection of Pony Express Trail and Mace Road in the Sierra foothill community of Camino, California.The bus stop's location had been selected approximately 25 years ago by defendant El Dorado Union High School District.

    Defendant Kassandra Hoelscher was traveling westbound on Pony Express Trail on her way to high school when she lost control of her 1992 Chevrolet Blazer and slid into the bus stop, striking and pinning plaintiff against a utility guy-wire, resulting in a traumatic amputation of plaintiff’s right leg just below the knee. 

     

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff filed suit naming Hoelscher, the school district, and the County of El Dorado, PG & E, California CHP, and El Dorado County Department of Transportation for the State of California as defendants.

    Plaintiff alleged that the school district was liable for negligent placement of the school bus stop on the outside edge of a high speed curve and that the county was liable for the dangerous condition of the curve on Pony Express Trail immediately east of the bus stop due to its irregular superelevation.

    Plaintiff’s traffic safety engineer, in a manner consistent with a declaration he submitted in opposition to the County’s motion for summary judgment , opined that the superelevation and bus stop placement were both causes of the plaintiff’s damages.  Plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert also testified that the irregular superelevation was a likely cause of defendant’s loss of control.  The jury heard evidence that the bus stop was relocated after the subject accident due to safety concerns. 

    At trial, after defendants school district and county had settled out, plaintiff conceded that the school district bore some liability for the bus stop placement, but argued that the irregular banking was typical of most rural roads in the Sierra foothills and was not the main cause of the accident.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant Hoelscher denied liability throughout the litigation and at trial, claiming that her travel speed was slow and that her loss of control was excusable because of the icy roadway conditions and characteristics of the roadway.She further claimed that but for the negligent placement of the school bus stop on the outside of county’s dangerous curve, plaintiff would not have been injured.

    Defendant’s expert traffic safety engineer testified that the intersection where the bus stop was located had an accident rate at least three times higher than similar intersections statewide and that the accident history provided notice to the county and school district that the bus stop needed to be moved long before the subject accident occurred.

    Defendant driver’s accident reconstruction expert testified the accident was not caused by driver error.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    After the accident, plaintiff was transported via life flight to Sutter Roseville Medical Center where she underwent knee disarticulation surgery to remove what remained of her right tibia and preserve the distal end of her femur to assist in weight bearing once fitted with a prosthesis. However, she subsequently developed an infection and required a second amputation revision surgery at Kaiser Permanente Roseville in April 2012, which required removing the femoral condyles thereby making her an above-the-knee amputee.

    Plaintiff received physical therapy, chiropractic care, and counseling for anxiety and PTSD. Recently, plaintiff’s right leg became infected at the amputation site requiring her to discontinue use of her prosthesis for several months.

    Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon and pain management/rehabilitation doctor testified that plaintiff would require a future surgical revision surgery to remove more of her right femur as well as other palliative care to treat her chronic pain.

     

  • Plaintiff argued that, due to the loss of her right leg, she was no longer able to participate in the physical activities she enjoyed before the accident including competitive volleyball, horseback riding, hiking, snowboarding, and swimming. 

    Plaintiff also contended that her injuries limit her future earning potential because she is no longer able to pursue her dream career as a registered nurse. Prior to her recent right leg infection Plaintiff was employed as a supermarket courtesy clerk which required her to be on her feet several hours per day. 

    Plaintiff asked the jury to award future lifetime medical and prosthetic care for her injuries, as well as support services due to her inability to physically manage household chores as she ages.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $2,900,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $100,000 policy limits.

Additional Notes

Plaintiffs made a statutory demand of $2,900,000.  Defendant Hoelscher's insurer offered her $100,000 policy limits but thereafter failed to protect defendant in a way that plaintiff contends constituted breaches of duty entitling defendant to full indemnification.

Insurer:

Safeco for Kassandra Hoelscher

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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