$5,000,000 Verdict in Indianapolis, IN
A 17 year-old bicyclist was struck by a privately owned school bus while pedaling on his way to high school in the early morning in Indianapolis, Indiana.
He suffered a broken leg when the school bus struck him from behind. This caused a "degloving injury" to the lower leg where the skin peeled off from ankle to knee. Multiple operations and a lengthy hospital stay followed.
The school bus driver, the investigating police officer, an accident reconstructionist hired by the defense, an eyewitness and the school bus company's own internal investigators all placed fault upon the bicyclist for causing the crash.
What can a lawyer do when every witness is against your client?
Well, Attorney Jeff "JJ" Shaw got to work doing some investigative work.
But, we were able to locate internal company documents that showed the school bus driver was late on her way to school, was not following her assigned route and had been instructed by the company bosses previously to not ever follow a slow-moving vehicle of any kind in the same lane of travel. The bus driver admitted in court all of those allegations on examination by Attorney Jeff JJ Shaw.
During a hotly contested 4-day trial in Marion County Superior Court (Judge David Dreyer), emotions ran high for Attorney Jeff JJ Shaw while examining multiple witnesses for the private school bus company (Durham School Services) who tried to blame the child and ignore the fact that the driver violated multiple internal company guidelines AND the commercial driver's license manual of the State of Indiana.
The fact the school bus driver violated internal company guidelines highlighted an Indiana instruction of law that a jury could consider the failure to abide its "own" rules to be a consideration in the determination of whether negligence occurred.
Defense lawyers tend to argue because the company made its own rules, that these "guidelines" were just that -- instructive -- and not a consideration for a jury to determine negligence. After all, the defense lawyer argued in this case, perhaps the "guidelines" were written to be in excess of what a reasonable driver would be required to do under the same circumstances. In other words, these internal company guidelines were "aspirations" and "goals" -- not the standard of care. The defense lawyer argued a violation of these rules should not be considered a standard of care for this particular driver because the company was "extra careful" compared to other companies.
But, Attorney Jeff "JJ" Shaw argued that Indiana laws violations of internal guidelines to be determined to be the standard of care and even if not, that an expert witness was going to testify that the standard of care was not met and the internal guidelines violation could be considered in addition to that testimony.
The Judge allowed the instruction on violations of internal company guidelines.
Additionally, Attorney Jeff "JJ" Shaw was able to find a provision in the school bus company contract with Indianapolis Public Schools that "punished" or "fined" the school bus company for each time it was late bringing children to school.
These fines were prohibitive and expensive, Attorney Jeff JJ Shaw argued and provided a "motive" for the school bus driver to follow so closely behind the child bicyclist and not fall back safely. Shaw was able to locate GPS data that suggested the driver of the school bus was already 10 minutes behind schedule on the date of the injury.
The jury deliberated for approximately 15 hours over two separate days.
Finally, the verdict was in -- FOR THE PLAINTIFF!
The jury found the bus company negligent and awarded $5 Million in damages (reduced by 25% fault assigned to the bicyclist).
Upheld by verdict in the Indiana Court of Appeals, Durham School Services, Inc. eventually paid $4,400,000 to satisfy the judgment a year and one-half later.