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Teen driver was texting before crash with school bus

Amount:

$28,727,627.17

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Minnesota

Venue:

Itasca County

Court:

Itasca County District Court, 9th

Injury Type(s):

back-lower back; back-fracture (fracture, transverse process), vertebra (fracture, transverse process); neck-fusion, cervical; neck-fracture (fracture, transverse process), vertebra (fracture, transverse process); neck-fusion, cervical; brain-cerebrospinal fluid leak; chest-hemothorax; chest-fracture, rib; other-spasm; other-ulcer; other-hepatic; other-fracture; other-hematoma; other-neuropathy; other-spasticity; other-back and neck; other-fracture, C5-6; other-fracture, sacrum; other-pins/rods/screws; other-sacroiliac joint; other-hardware implanted; other-fracture dislocation; pelvis; pelvis-fracture, pelvis; epidermis-bedsore/decubitus ulcer/pressure sore; urological-incontinence ; urological-neurogenic bowel; urological-neurogenic bladder; urological-urinary obstruction; hand/finger-hand; neurological-neurological impairment (autonomic dysreflexia); arterial/vascular-vasospasm; arterial/vascular-hemorrhage; arterial/vascular-hypotension; arterial/vascular-deep vein thrombosis; surgeries/treatment-laminectomy; surgeries/treatment-tracheostomy/tracheotomy; pulmonary/respiratory; pulmonary/respiratory-contusion, pulmonary; paralysis/quadriplegia-quadriplegia; gastrointestinal/digestive-liver (liver, laceration); gastrointestinal/digestive-pancreas; gastrointestinal/digestive-gastrointestinal complications; gastrointestinal/digestive-bowel/colon/intestine (duodenum, perforation), perforation (duodenum, perforation)

Case Type:

Motor Vehicle - Bus, Broadside, Intersection

Case Name:

Paige Anderson v. Ely Public School District, Jay Poshak and Hailey Salo, No. 31-CV-15-1344

Date:

January 26, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Paige Anderson (Female, 16 Years), 

Teresa Dubovich (Female, 54 Years), 

Michael Dubovich (Male, 57 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Stephanie Ball; Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick, P.A.; Duluth, MN, for Paige Anderson

Plaintiff Expert(s):

David Nash; M.D.; Physical Medicine; Rochester, MN called by: Stephanie Ball ■ Linda Graham; R.N.; Nursing; Minneapolis, MN called by: Stephanie Ball ■ Thomas Silvestrini II; M.D.; Physical Medicine; Duluth, MN called by: Stephanie Ball

Defendant(s):

Jay Poshak, 

Hailey Salo, 

Ely Public School District

Defense Attorney(s):

Robert C. Barnes; McCarthy & Barnes, PLC; Duluth, MN, for Hailey Salo ■ Timothy J. O'Conner; Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson, P.A.; Minneapolis, MN, for Jay Poshak, Ely Public School District ■ Thomas J. Evenson; Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson, P.A.; Minneapolis, MN, for Jay Poshak, Ely Public School District

Defendant Expert(s):

Peter Goman; Accident Reconstruction; Duluth, MN called by: Robert C. Barnes ■ Bradley Helms; Physical Medicine; St. Paul, MN called by: Robert C. Barnes, Timothy J. O'Conner, Thomas J. Evenson ■ Gregory Gravesen; Accident Reconstruction; St. Croix Falls, WI called by: Timothy J. O'Conner, Thomas J. Evenson ■ Michael DiTallo; Accident Investigation; Lake Zurich, IL called by: Timothy J. O'Conner, Thomas J. Evenson

Insurer(s):

Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. for Salo; Continental Western Group for Poshak and Ely Public School District

Facts:

On Oct. 9, 2009, plaintiff Paige Anderson, 16, a student, was a rear passenger on the passenger side of a 2003 Ford Taurus driven by Hailey Salo, and they were heading west on Curley Avenue in Coleraine. As Salo attempted to cross from the median separating the north and southbound lanes of Highway 69, her vehicle was struck on its passenger side by a Ely Public School District bus traveling south on Highway 169, operated by Jay Poshak, and was dragged about 100 feet. Anderson was rendered a quadriplegic. Anderson sued Salo, Poshak and the Ely Public School District, alleging that Salo and Poshak were negligent in the operation of their vehicles, and that the school district was vicariously liable for Poshak's actions. Anderson's mother, Teresa Dubovich and stepfather, Michael Dubovich, also sued the defendants. Anderson's counsel argued that both drivers were to blame for the accident due to their inattention. Anderson's counsel argued that a reconstruction of the accident performed by the Minnesota State Patrol detailed that Poshak was driving the bus at 48 mph to 54 mph at the time of the accident, a speed well above the 40 mph speed limit, and at a time when the intersection is particularly busy (about 3:30 pm). Counsel for the plaintiffs contended that the school bus was transporting a football team at the time of the accident, and that two of the team's coaches testified that they saw Salo's vehicle from a distance. Counsel argued that Poshak should have reduced his speed upon seeing Salo's vehicle at the median of the intersection, and had he not been speeding, would have had time to react to Salo's vehicle if it suddenly entered the southbound lanes. Defense counsel for Salo also argued that the State Patrol reconstruction showed that Poshak was speeding at the time of the accident, and was inattentive to the road ahead. Defense counsel for Poshak and the school district argued that Salo, as well as her passengers, had been texting on their phones, and that Salo's phone records showed she had been texting and driving up until the moments in which the collision occurred. Salo suffered a traumatic brain injury and Anderson was rendered unresponsive immediately after the accident, and neither was able to testify as to what their actions were prior to the accident. Two accident reconstruction experts testified for Poshak and the school district. One expert testified that Poshak was driving at 39 mph at the time of the accident while the other said that Poshak was operating the bus at about 40 mph at the time of the accident. One of these two experts, Gregory Gravesen, testified that in performing their accident reconstruction, the State Patrol used too high a coefficient of friction, and this artificially increased Poshak's speed. He also testified that Salo drove in front of the bus unexpectedly and created an emergency situation to which he reacted appropriately.

Injury:

Paige was rendered unconscious and unresponsive as a result of the accident. She was placed in an ambulance and transported to a local hospital, then airlifted to St. Luke's Hospital where she remained through December 2009. She was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in December 2009, and remained there through March 2010. Paige sustained a C5-C6 fracture dislocation, classified as a C5 ASIA B/Asia A traumatic spinal cord injury, and an L1-L2 transverse process fracture. She underwent a posterior fusion of their C4 through C6 levels of the cervical spine; a C5 laminectomy; anterior stabilization, a partial median cortectomy with strut graft, cage and allograft bone plate, screw fixation and lumbar drain for spinal fluid leak at L1-L2. Along with her neck and back injuries, Paige suffered a left lobe pulmonary atelectasis (collapse of a lung or a lobe of a lung); a right lobe pulmonary contusion; disruption of the retro hepatic and intrahepatic vena cava; a retroperitoneal hematoma and an upper abdomen duodenal hematoma; a right hemothorax; pancreatic hemorrhage; liver and hilum lacerations; upper gastrointestinal bleeding requiring G-tube placement; deep vein thrombosis; multiple rib fractures; left and right sacral fractures and left S1 joint fracture; pelvic fractures and a right hand fracture. As a result of the injuries and treatment, Paige has or continues to suffer from urinary incontinence and infections; atypical autonomic dysreflexia; muscle spasms; hypotension and vasomotor instability; neurogenic bladder and bowel; spasticity; neuropathic pain and sacral pressure ulcers. Immediately following the accident, Paige suffered respiratory failure requiring a tracheostomy and mechanical ventilation through Nov. 27. Paige is confined to a wheelchair, requires 24-hour care, receives treatment through a visiting nurse and is cared for by her mother. Paige sought past and future medical expenses. She also sought damages for past and future pain and suffering, for her disability, disfigurement, emotional distress and for loss of earning capacity. Michael and Teresa Dubovich sought recovery for damages for their services in caring for Anderson, as well as for changes they made to their property to make it handicap accessible. The defense's expert physiatrist opined that Paige would be able to gain employment throughout her life.

Result:

The jury found that Poshak and Salo were each negligent in the operation of their vehicles, and that this negligence was a direct cause of the accident. The jury found Poshak to be 10 percent at fault and Salo to be 90 percent at fault.

Paige Anderson:

$1,500,000 Personal Injury: Future Lost Earnings Capability; $13,000,000 Personal Injury: future health care expenses and costs of services; $3,000,000 Personal Injury: past pain, disability, disfigurement and emotional distress; $2,071,627 Personal Injury: past health care expenses and costs of services; $9,000,000 Personal Injury: future pain, disability, disfigurement and emotional distress

Michael Dubovich:

$49,750 Personal Injury: modifications to home to make it handicap accessible; $78,000 Personal Injury: past services in caring for Paige until her 18th birthday

Teresa Dubovich:

$49,750 Personal Injury: modifications to home to make it handicap accessible; $78,000 Personal Injury: past services in caring for Paige until her 18th birthday

Trial Information:

Judge:

Lois J. Lang

Trial Length:

7  days

Trial Deliberations:

6  hours

Jury Vote:

6-0

Jury Composition:

4 female/ 3 male

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was gleaned from court documents and an article in the Star Tribune, and interviews of plaintiff's counsel and defense counsel for Hailey Salo. Defense counsel for Ely Public School District did not return the reporter's phone calls.