On July 30, 2015, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorneys Rahul Ravipudi, Deborah Chang, Tom Schultz and Matthew Stumpf obtained a $20,500,000 jury verdict for the mother of a high school student who was killed while walking to a bus stop in Fontana, California. The verdict followed the trial court’s finding that the Chaffey Joint Union School District hid evidence in an attempt to avoid responsibility for the tragic collision.
On December 6, 2010, 15-year old student, Jin Ouk Burnham was walking to a school bus stop that required him to cross an uncontrolled, five-lane highway in violation of state law when he was hit by a vehicle whose driver said she did not see him. He died 15 days later. During the litigation, the School District hid evidence and misrepresented facts regarding the location of the available bus stops, resulting in significant issue sanctions being ordered by the trial judge.
Despite the School District’s attempt to place blame for the accident on Jin and the driver, the San Bernardino Superior Court jury assigned 100% liability for the accident on the School District. During closing arguments, the School District’s attorney claimed that the relationship between Jin and his mother, who had finalized his adoption a year before his death, was worth only $1,500,000. “Although the school district attempted to cover up what happened, we fought for the truth and the truth prevailed.” said attorney Rahul Ravipudi.
Rahul Ravipudi, Tom Schultz, Deborah Chang
Wrongful Death, Auto Accident, Government Liability
In young boys death, jury awards $10 Million – Daily Journal (PDF)
Family awarded $10 million in death of boy – OC Register (PDF)
Jury Awards $10M To Family Of Boy Who Suffocated On Bus Ride Home From School
3-Year-Old Dies After Being Found Unresponsive On School Bus
Disabled Boy Found Unconscious on School Bus, Dies
Disabled Toddler Found Dead on School Bus
On December 7, 2012, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorneys obtained a $10 million jury verdict in a wrongful death case involving three-year old Kevin Cisler who was strangled to death in 2011 while on a bus ride home from preschool. The lawsuit was brought against the Capistrano Unified School District (“CUSD”) by Kevin’s parents, Melissa and Daniel Cisler, and was tried in the Orange County Superior Court. The Cislers were represented at trial by Brian Panish and Tom Schultz.
As a baby, Kevin had been diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome which left him with limited mobility and speech. Despite his special needs, Kevin was a joyful child who was beloved by his parents and extended family. Kevin’s parents wanted to ensure Kevin the best life possible so he was enrolled in a special education preschool where he could receive therapy. As part of the program, the CUSD was to provide Kevin with safe transportation to and from preschool in a school bus equipped for a child in a wheelchair, which Kevin was required to use.
Despite the CUSD ensuring Kevin’s parents that he would only be transported by experienced drivers, on March 25, 2011, CUSD employees failed to properly secure Kevin into his wheelchair. They also positioned Kevin’s wheel chair directly behind the bus driver’s seat where he could not be seen. Because the chest harness, lap belt and pummel needed to keep Kevin safely in his seat had not been properly secured, during an almost hour long bus ride, Kevin slid down in his chair until the chest harness was around his neck and obstructed his airway. The weight of his body and the position of the chest harness caused Kevin to slowly asphyxiate and, because he was positioned behind the driver, the driver failed to one notice that he was in distress. Kevin’s condition was only discovered when a parent who had boarded the bus to retrieve her own child saw Kevin slumped over in his chair.
During discovery in the case, it was learned that the driver who transported Kevin the day he died had been working as a school bus driver for only three weeks, had no prior work experience that would qualify him to drive special needs children, and that in his three weeks as a bus driver, he had only transported two other individuals in wheelchairs, neither who required safety devices to help keep them in their wheelchair seats.
Despite overwhelming evidence available early in the case, the CUSD refused to admit fault in Kevin’s death for 18-months and did not apologize for their negligence. After admitting that it’s negligence caused Kevin’s death, the CUSD took the position prior to trial that the value of Kevin’s life and the loss suffered by his parents should somehow be “discounted” because of Kevin’s developmental disability. The jury’s eight-figure verdict makes clear that they under the profound loss Kevin’s suffered as a result of his death.
Brian Panish, Tom Schultz
Wrongful Death, Government Liability