A Massachusetts jury has found a high school student liable for injuries suffered by three friends riding with her when her car struck a school bus head-on. Jurors also found that First Student, owner of the bus, was negligent and shared responsibility for the passengers’ serious injuries.
The jurors in Brockton Superior Court on Aug. 28 decided to award the injured passengers more than $30 million, but the family of the car’s driver and First Student had reached a confidential settlement while the jury was deliberating damages. In closing arguments attorneys asked jurors to award more than $60 million.
Monica Knight, then 16, was taking friends for a morning drive before attending high school in Kingston, Mass., in 2012 when her car crossed the center line of a tree-lined, two-lane road and struck the school bus head-on. Her car, and the bus, stopped on the bus’s side of the road’s center yellow stripes. Her three passengers suffered serious brain injuries.
Knight pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle. The families of the victims sued Knight and her family along with First Student Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. The suit contended that the school bus driver had not been properly trained and could have avoided the girl’s automobile if she had been “operating with due care.”
According to the Quincy Patriot Ledger newspaper, “The victims’ attorneys convinced the jury that First Student was also negligent, accusing the company of having buses that regularly sped on Lake Street in Kingston, where the crash took place, and covering up medical records and driving tests that may have shown (the bus driver) was unfit to drive. The victims’ attorneys also said the company routinely failed to test its drivers.
“The victims’ attorneys and a forensic video expert witness accused the company of erasing portions of crash footage captured by a rear-facing passenger-focused camera on the bus. The videotape contains portions of the bus’s trip that day, but the portion in which the crash happened is missing. The lawyers also said (the driver) drifted across a double yellow line on the two-lane road, causing Knight to react.”
The judge ruled during the trial that First Student had turned over only portions of the driver’s personnel file during discovery, omitting unsatisfactory training reports.
The lead attorney for First Student denied the plaintiffs’ claims during his closing arguments, placing the blame for the crash on Knight and distracted driving.
Attorneys for the parties confirmed that a financial settlement had been reached during jury deliberations.