MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier: Punitive Damages in Bus Accidents

Our Spartanburg car accident lawyers understand that seeking punitive damages can lead to extensive litigation. In MV Transp., Inc. v. Richard G. Allgeier (Executor of the Estate of Barbara Allgeier, Diseased), the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that punitive damages should be considered in a case involving a bus driver with a history of alcohol abuse.

street-scene-through-rain-glass.jpgIn South Carolina, the award of punitive damages is addressed in Section 15-32-200 of the Code of Laws.

In MV Transp. Inc., Barbara Allgeier was a frequent rider on a Metropolitan Transit Authority of River City (“TARC”) paratransit bus service. The paratransit bus service is operated by MV Transportation, Inc. (“MV”). A paratransit bus is a bus that is equipped to safely transport passengers in wheelchairs. The bus involved in this case was the TARC 3.

Barbara Allgeier, wheelchair-bound due to multiple sclerosis, was riding the TARC 3 bus being driving by Wilma Caldwell late one cold afternoon in December of 2006. When the bus arrived at Allgeier’s stop, Caldwell pulled the bus to the curb and began to deploy the wheelchair lift. The lift is designed with a sliding steel plate that will move into position to fill the gap between the bus floor and the lift so that there will be a seamless transition. On this afternoon, the steel plate was not properly aligned, and, instead of filling the gap, it blocked passage from the bus to the lift. Wheelchair-bound passengers are not in a position to see if the plate is in place and, therefore, are relying on the driver to tell them if it is safe to go.

MV’s company policies explicitly state that bus drivers are supposed to assist passengers onto the lift. In this case, Caldwell did not notify Allgeier that the lift was obstructed, and, when her wheelchair hit the plate, it fell over. At this point, Allgeier’s chair was suspended in mid-air. She was held in place in her wheelchair by a seatbelt. Caldwell’s response to this situation was to release Allgeier’s seatbelt, which caused her to fall to the ground, and she shattered bones in both legs.

Caldwell, pursuant to her training, called her dispatcher who sent to employees to the scene. It took 22 minutes for them to call 911, and they described Allgeier’s injury as back pain. Due to that description, EMS did not make this a priority call and arrived 20 minutes later. As a result of the accident, Allgeier was hospitalized for 225 days and, upon returning home, could no longer lead an active life as she had before the bus accident.

Evidence showed that Caldwell had been living at an alcohol abuse rehabilitation facility at the time she was hired. She fraudulently listed the rehab center as her home address on her employment application. Regardless of whether MV knew of this, she did not have her immediately tested for alcohol within two hours of the accident, as their policy requires. She was not tested for two-and-half hours.

At trial, Allgeier was awarded over four million dollars for pain and suffering, but the court dismissed her claim for punitive damages. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of punitive damages in this case.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier, June 19, 2014, Supreme Court of Kentucky
More Blog Entries:

Spate of Bus Accidents a Reminder of Injury Risks, March 29, 2014, Spartanburg Car Accident Lawyers Blog

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