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Bus on its way to casino rolled over, killed two passengers

Amount:

$10,942,912.47

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Texas

Venue:

Dallas County

Court:

Dallas County District Court, 193rd

Injury Type(s):

back-fracture, vertebra;
neck-fracture, vertebra;
chest-fracture, rib;
other-death; other-unconsciousness; amputation-arm

Case Type:

Wrongful Death; Transportation – Bus; Business Law – Agency; Motor Vehicle – Rollover, Passenger, Single Vehicle; Worker/Workplace Negligence – Negligent Retention

Case Name:

Alice Wilkinson Stanley v. Cardinal Coach Line, Inc.; and Loyd Earl Rieve,
No. DC-13-04381

Date:

May 2, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Linda Sewell (Female), 

Ronald Stanley (Male), 

William Stanley (Male), 

Donna Garner (intervenor) (Female), 

Kathy Bolton (intervenor) (Female), 

Melissa Engman (intervenor) (Female), 

Kenneth Hildreth (intervenor) (Male), 

Estate of Alice Wilkinson Stanley (Female, 83 Years), 

Estate of Paula Hahn (intervenor) (Female, 69 Years), 

Molly Dillon (intervenor; settled) (Female)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Frank L. Branson;
Law Offices of Frank L. Branson P.C.;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Linda Sewell, Ronald Stanley, William Stanley, Estate of Alice Wilkinson Stanley ■ Spencer P. Browne;
Reyes Browne Reillly;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Donna Garner (intervenor), Kathy Bolton (intervenor), Melissa Engman (intervenor), Kenneth Hildreth (intervenor), Estate of Paula Hahn (intervenor) ■ Debbie Dudley Branson;
The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson, P.C.;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Linda Sewell, Ronald Stanley, William Stanley, Estate of Alice Wilkinson Stanley ■ Andy Payne;
PayneMitchell Law Group;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Molly Dillon (intervenor; settled) ■ Chip Brooker;
Law Offices of Frank L. Branson P.C.;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Linda Sewell, Ronald Stanley, William Stanley, Estate of Alice Wilkinson Stanley

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Tracy Dyer; M.D.; Forensic Pathology; Dallas,
TX called by:
Frank L. Branson, Spencer P. Browne, Debbie Dudley Branson, Andy Payne, Chip Brooker ■ Christian Minshall; M.D.; Critical Care Surgery; Dallas,
TX called by:
Frank L. Branson, Debbie Dudley Branson, Chip Brooker

Defendant(s):

Loyd Earl Rieve, 

Cardinal Coach Line Inc., 

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Defense Attorney(s):

Howard J. Klatsky;
Fee, Smith, Sharp & Vitullo;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma ■ Thomas W. Fee;
Fee, Smith, Sharp & Vitullo, LLP;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Defendant Expert(s):

Steve Irwin;
Accident Reconstruction;
Dallas,
TX called by:
Howard J. Klatsky, Thomas W. Fee

Insurer(s):

Occidental for Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Facts:

On April 11, 2013, plaintiffs’ decedent Alice Wilkinson Stanley, 83, a master seamstress; plaintiff intervenors’ decedent Paula Hahn, 69; and plaintiff Molly Dillon were passengers on a charter bus traveling from Bedford to Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Okla. The bus driver was Loyd Rieve, an employee of bus owner Cardinal Coach Lines Inc. Rieve lost control of the bus on the George Bush Turnpike in Irving. The bus struck the crash attenuators on the right shoulder; crossed several lanes from right to left; and struck the center concrete barrier before rolling over. Hahn and Stanley sustained fatal injuries. Also on the bus was nonparty Sue "Casino Sue" Taylor, the group tour coordinator who had organized the trip for 45 senior citizens. Taylor also sustained fatal injuries in the accident. The estates and families of Stanley and Hahn, along with Dillon, sued Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, operating as Choctaw Casino Resort, Rieve and Cardinal for his motor vehicle negligence. Rieve and Cardinal settled the claims against them about 1.5 years before trial for undisclosed amounts. However, the plaintiffs alleged that Cardinal, Rieve and Taylor were acting in furtherance of a mission for the benefit of the casino and subject to the casino’s control as to the details of the mission; that Rieve and Taylor were acting as borrowed employees of the casino; and that Rieve and Taylor were ostensible agents of the casino. If the plaintiffs proved these allegations, then the casino would be liable for not only its own negligence, if any, but also that of Cardinal, Rieve and Taylor. The plaintiffs emphasized that the casino derived substantial income from bus trips such as this one and from Texans generally. Plaintiffs’ counsel introduced evidence that 75 percent of the casino’s income comes from Texans and that 85 percent of its customers arriving on buses come from Texas. The casino had 12 buses of its own that it used for similar trips, and plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the casino’s duties were the same whether it used its own bus or a charter bus for a particular group of customers. The plaintiffs alleged that the casino negligently retained Rieve and Cardinal, and that Cardinal negligently retained Rieve. The casino did not perform a background check on Rieve, who had a history of multiple accidents, including a fatality, and multiple prior tickets for going more than 10 mph over the speed limit while driving a bus. In 2007, his license was suspended, and he was fired from his two most recent commercial bus jobs before Cardinal. The plaintiffs alleged that, in the April 11 accident, Rieve negligently failed to pay attention while driving, lost control of the bus and failed to drive in a single lane. The plaintiffs alleged that Taylor negligently violated the very safety guidelines that it was her responsibility to enforce while on the bus. These guidelines included not distracting the driver and not standing up while the bus is in motion. According to the plaintiffs, Rieve and Taylor were discussing which route to take and which of them would pay the toll. This discussion distracted Rieve and contributed to causing the accident, the plaintiffs alleged. The investigating officer agreed that Rieve’s discussion with Taylor was the cause of his inattention. For comparative responsibility, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to consider the relative dollar amounts that the casino, Cardinal and Rieve would have made from this trip. Initially, Stanley was the only plaintiff, and she filed the lawsuit shortly before her death. When she died, her estate and family joined the lawsuit, and Hahn’s estate and family, as well as Dillon, later intervened. Dillon settled her claims before trial. Rieve and Cardinal were the only defendants originally. The casino was added later. The casino denied negligence. It argued that Rieve and Cardinal were solely responsible for the accident, but it denied that Cardinal, Rieve or Taylor was acting in furtherance of a mission for the benefit of the casino or subject to the casino’s control as to the details of the mission. The casino also denied that Rieve or Taylor was acting as a borrowed employee or that either one was an ostensible agent of the casino. The casino argued that it did not hire Rieve or own the bus and that Taylor was not a casino employee. The casino retained an accident reconstructionist, who gave his deposition in February 2015. He testified that, in his opinion, Rieve’s inattention caused the accident. However, at the time of the deposition, evidence of Rieve’s distraction by the casino representative had not yet been developed.

Injury:

Stanley was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. She sustained multiple broken ribs, multiple spinal fractures and a traumatic amputation of her right (dominant) arm. She was unconscious for the first day after the accident. She died in the hospital 10 days later. The cause of death was blunt force trauma. Stanley’s trauma surgeon described her as a tough person. Stanley was survived by three adult children, plaintiff Linda Sewell, plaintiff Ronald Stanley and plaintiff William Stanley. They all stayed with their mother at the hospital after the accident. Stanley was very active. She worked long hours and designed costumes for internationally competitive ballroom dancers and figure skaters. Because she was on Social Security, however, she allowed herself only $12,000 in annual income from her work. The estate sought the medical bills of $164,157.47 and funeral and burial expenses of $8,755. For Stanley’s pain and suffering and mental anguish, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award the estate what the casino advertised that it gave away daily in jackpots in August 2014. Based on the casino’s Web site, plaintiffs’ counsel said, the casino gave away approximately $870,000 a day in jackpots in August 2014. Stanley’s adult children sought unspecified damages for past and future pecuniary loss, mental anguish and loss of companionship and society. Hahn sustained blunt force trauma and died within 10 minutes of the accident. She was survived by her four adult children, intervenor Melissa Engman; intervenor Kenneth Hildreth; intervenor Donna Garner; and intervenor Kathy Bolton. They sought damages for past and future pecuniary loss, mental anguish and loss of companionship and society.

Result:

The jury found that Cardinal, Rieve and Taylor were acting in furtherance of a mission for the benefit of the casino and subject to the casino’s control as to the details of the mission; that Rieve, but not Taylor, was acting as a borrowed employee of the casino; and that an ostensible agency relationship existed between Taylor and the casino, but not between Rieve and the casino. The jury found that negligence and comparative responsibility of 58 percent on Rieve, 25 percent on the casino and 17 percent on Cardinal. However, because Cardinal, Rieve and Taylor were acting in furtherance of a mission for the benefit of the casino and subject to the casino’s control as to the details of the mission, the casino is liable for the conduct of Cardinal, Rieve and Taylor, as well as its own negligence. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $10,942,912.47. The jury did not find negligent retention by the casino of Rieve or Cardinal. The casino had $5 million in primary coverage and $15 million in excess coverage. Before trial, the casino waived sovereign immunity up to the limit of its applicable insurance policies.

Kathy Bolton (intervenor): $40,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $75,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $100,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $135,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $200,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish; Melissa Engman (intervenor): $40,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $75,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $100,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $135,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $200,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish; Donna Garner (intervenor): $40,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $75,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $100,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $135,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $200,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish; Estate of Paula Hahn (intervenor): $1,650,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $1,600,000 Personal Injury: past mental anguish; Kenneth Hildreth (intervenor): $40,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $75,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $100,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $135,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $200,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish; Linda Sewell: $30,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $50,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $50,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $85,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $125,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish; Estate of Alice Wilkinson Stanley: $164,157 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $1,000,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $2,250,000 Personal Injury: past mental anguish; $8,755 Wrongful Death: Funeral Burial Expense; Ronald Stanley: $30,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $50,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $50,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $85,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $125,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish; William Stanley: $30,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $50,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $50,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $85,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Pecuniary Contribution; $150,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $125,000 Wrongful Death: Future Mental Anguish

Trial Information:

Judge:

Carl Ginsberg

Demand:

$5 million by Stanley plaintiffs

Offer:

$50,000 to Stanley plaintiffs

Trial Length:

2
 weeks

Trial Deliberations:

4
 days

Jury Vote:

12-0

Jury Composition:

6 male/ 6 female

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by the Stanley plaintiffs’ counsel. Defense counsel and intervenors’ counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.