Indiana teenager hit by speeding bus awarded $3.9 million in lawsuit against private school contractor

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by Jay Pate

One morning in 2010, a bus operated by Durham School Services, Inc., an Illinois-based school bus contractor, hit seventeen-year-old Richard Bethel as he was riding his bicycle to school in Indianapolis. Bethel sued the company to recover for his injuries. An Indiana Court of Appeals has now upheld a $3.9 judgment in favor of Bethel and against the company, which provided bus services for the Indianapolis Public Schools.

The company’s contract with the school system provided that the company would be assessed a fee for any late bus and could be assessed a maximum late charge of 400% of the daily bus rate. At trial, Bethel argued the accident was caused by a bus driver driving dangerously to avoid being assessed a late fee.

Bethel rode his bike to school everyday and took the same route. He was familiar with the normal route of the bus that hit him. Bethel assumed the bus would be making a right turn behind him, as per its normal route. However, the bus driver, who was running late, decided to take a different route. Instead of turning right, the bus accelerated and, without signaling, moved into the left lane.

At trial, the driver conceded that she did not follow her company’s directive that “[b]uses will travel in the right lane at all times except when a hazard exists or preparing to turn left.” She also testified that she was aware that a driver could be disciplined for being late. Additionally, she testified that she could have slowed down and stayed in the right lane and taken her normal route that day.

Bethel looked back, saw the bus approaching but did not see any turn signals on the bus, made a turn motion with left arm, and then moved to the left. The bus driver, who had accelerated and also moved to the left lane, then hit Bethel. When the bus stopped, Bethel was under the bus, and the bus’s tire was on top of Bethel’s left foot. Bethel screamed for help. The driver radioed to report that she had “hit a child[.]” The driver then got off the bus and saw that Bethel’s “body was up under the bus” and that “the tire was on his leg up under the bus[ .]” The driver then went back into the bus and drove the bus off Bethel’s leg. In doing so, the driver ran over Bethel’s right leg, which “snapped[.]”

The jury deliberated over two days and returned a verdict in favor of Bethel and against the Defendants. Specifically, the jury determined that the Defendants were seventy-five percent (75%) at fault, Bethel was twenty-five percent (25%) at fault, and that Bethel’s total damages were $5,200,001.00. Thus, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Bethel and against the Defendants in the amount of $3,900,000.

The Defendants appealed, contending that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence the bus company’s contract with the public school system, photographs of Bethel’s injuries, and a recording of a 911 call made regarding the incident. The Indiana Court of Appeals has found there was no reversible error by the lower court.

The bus company also argued the amount of damages awarded by the jury was “excessive.” The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that was a question for the jury. The court noted that evidence at trial revealed that Bethel suffered severe injuries and pain as a result of Reed hitting him with the bus. Bethel was initially trapped under the bus until the driver moved the bus and ran over him a second time. Bethel suffered fractures to his spine and right ankle, a spleen laceration, and a degloving injury to his left foot. Bethel presented evidence regarding his sixteen-day hospital stay, which included multiple surgeries and skin grafts. Bethel also presented evidence that he was in good physical condition before the collision and that he was limited in his ability to perform physical activities (such as baseball, football, running, and soccer) after the collision. Additionally, Bethel testified that he experienced daily pain in his back and right ankle from his fractures and that he had to take prescription pain medication to control the pain.

Because evidence in the record supported the jury’s damages award, the Court of Appeals refused to disturb the jury’s award of damages. The judgment in favor of Bethel was affirmed.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson Fighting for Children and Families

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we are proud of the work we have done on behalf children and their families:

  • $36 million jury verdict for a child who suffered brain damage and other serious injuries in a bus crash on the way to church camp.
  • $6.7 million verdict in a personal injury lawsuit against the United States for medical errors at a VA hospital that caused permanent brain damage to an 8-year-old child.
  • $2.2 million jury verdict in a personal injury case involving the improper discharge of a newborn from the hospital with low glucose levels, resulting in brain damage.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have tried hundreds of cases to verdict and reached settlements in hundreds more. Heygood, Orr & Pearson also possesses the financial resources to take on personal injury cases from start to finish. In many cases, our firm has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a case in order to take it to trial. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we are committed to achieving justice for our clients, whatever the cost.

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