School bus company ordered to pay $7M after child suffered brain injury in 2011
Published Monday, December 18, 2017 7:42PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 18, 2017 10:47PM EST
A Barrie, Ont. woman who suffered serious brain injuries after jumping out of the emergency rear door of a school bus in 2011 has been awarded $7 million after a jury found the bus company failed to keep her safe.
Sarah Little was 13 years old on her final day of Grade 8 at Guthrie Public School in Oro-Medonte. The court heard that she was taking part in a student tradition, jumping out of the rear door of the bus to mark the last day of class. Little fell head-over-heels, striking her skull on the pavement.
“There was enough force that her skull was fractured both in the temporal bone and the occipital bone. The evidence AT the trial from the doctors is that those are some of the hardest bones in the skull to fracture,” Little’s lawyer Troy Lehman told CTVNews.ca. “The brain injury was described by the experts as being permanent.”
Students who testified before the court said the tradition dates back to at least 2007. Little’s legal team argued the bus driver was aware students were jumping, but did nothing to stop them, and did not report the unruly behavior to school officials.
Evidence suggests the bus was coming to a stop when Little jumped out. The vehicle was travelling between 15 and 25 kilometres per hour, according to witnesses.
Lehman said the impact left Little, who is now 20, with a range of cognitive, emotional and behavioral impairments. Doctors testified that she is not likely to be able to work or live independently for the rest of her life.
In its decision Friday, the jury found the bus driver had failed to meet clear expectations set out by the company handbook about reporting unsafe behaviour to school officials. The driver was also found to have failed to fulfil a duty to keep students safe.
In Canada, companies can be held liable for the negligence of their employees.
The jury found Little was partly responsible for her injuries, having made the decision to jump out of the bus in violation of the rules.
The bus company, Floyd Sinton Ltd., which now operates as Sinton Landmark Transportation, was found to be 75 per cent at fault. The jury awarded Little $7 million for lost wages, pain and suffering, and future care costs.
“It would certainly be one of the largest jury awards in the province,” Lehman said. “Her damages were assessed at over $9 million, and then reduced by 25 per cent to get down to the $7 million.”
CTV News contacted Sinton Landmark Transportation for comment. The company did not return several calls on Monday.
Lehman said Little was “living a normal life” and looking forward to high school prior to the incident, adding that she loved animals and thought about becoming an veterinarian.
“The whole family has suffered in a real way,” he said.
Lehman said Little’s mother, Kristina Dodds, gave up her bridal store business to care for her daughter.
He said he hopes Friday’s verdict will send a message to anyone entrusted with the safety of children about the importance of making sure rules are followed, and ensuring the necessary authorities are informed when they are not.
“We all know as parents that if you allow kids to get away with dangerous things, they are going to continue to do them. That’s what happened here,” Lehman said. “That’s why Sarah jumped out of the bus when she did.”