JURY VERDICT: Sewer cover cracked and caused accident involving bus
In the early morning hours of December 6, 1997, a 51-year-old transit Torrance bus driver was driving along Western Avenue when he drove over a manhole cover that immediately broke in two pieces under the vehicle’s weight. One of the pieces flew up under the bus, damaging the undercarriage, and causing the plaintiff to lose control of the steering wheel. The driver’s left shoulder smashed into the window and his knees slammed into the dashboard in his attempt to bring the bus safely to a stop.
The Plaintiff’s Injuries
Ambulance personnel rushed the bus driver to the hospital where he immediately underwent surgery. Doctors diagnosed him with a dislocated left shoulder and torn meniscus in his left knee. During the surgical repair of his left shoulder, the driver suffered embolytic complications that caused him to spend four days in the ICU unit. He now suffers from a permanent knee disability and is unable to undergo further surgery due to his increased risk of an embolism. Due to these injuries, he is unable to work and is now on total disability.
The Negligence Trial
Johnna J. Hansen of Booth & Koskoff was hired to represent the former bus driver in a negligence lawsuit against L.A. county. The plaintiff argued that the manhole cover had a preexisting crack that was over a year old and that it was this crack that caused the dangerous break. Additionally, maintenance workers should have discovered and replaced the compromised cover during a July 1997 inspection.
After the accident, county workers disposed of the broken pieces and could provide no record of its prior inspection. Yet, representatives of the county argued in court that the manhole had no visible crack during the July inspection and therefore there was no causation as to the plaintiff’s shoulders and knee injuries.
The Booth & Koskoff team brought metallurgy expert Dr. Lawrence Kashar to testify on the plaintiff’s behalf. During the course of the negligence trial, the jury saw post-accident photos of the broken manhole cover and Dr. Kashar testified that based on those pictures, there was most likely a serious crack at the time of the accident and that it was that crack that caused the break.
The trial lasted 9 days with the jury deliberating a further day and a half. They ultimately ruled 12-0 in favor of the plaintiff and awarded the former driver $2,027,356 for economic and noneconomic damages.