Moreno v. City of Gering – Government Liability in Bus Accident

Bad bus drivers are a problem in Florida. The Sun-Sentinel has drilled home the issue in numerous stories, including one last year that detailed how a single driver had 16 accidents, 25 written warnings and served 30 days of unpaid suspension – yet he was still on-the-job.bus2

In a number of these accidents, county officials end up settling the resulting injury lawsuits, including most recently one for $75,000 after a woman was injured due to a bus accident on I-95 in 2013 that resulted in a four-car pileup.

Although bus accidents are relatively rare compared to car accidents, they are still an issue and victims need to know what recourse they have to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. Ascertaining damages, too, can be a challenging and quite technical endeavor.

Our Miami bus accident attorneys are prepared to help.

In keeping abreast of the most up-to-date in bus accident law, we came across the recent case of Moreno v. City of Gering, a case heard recently by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Plaintiff was a passenger in a handibus owned and operated by the county when the handibus was struck by a van operated by a city volunteer firefighter. Plaintiff was ejected from the bus and landed on the pavement. She suffered personal injuries as a result.

Unlike in many bus accident cases, defendants – both the city and the county – admitted liability. That meant the only matter in dispute was damages, meaning how much were plaintiff’s injuries worth. This was to be determined at a bench trial.

A major point of contention was the cervical fusion surgery performed on plaintiff by a doctor who reportedly came under fire in published reports for performing an unusually high number of these surgeries when they were unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Doctor was being sued for medical malpractice by a number of plaintiffs. Defendants sought records that documented those surgeries and plaintiff didn’t object.

Ultimately, the court ruled this information wasn’t necessary because it related to non-party patients that were only going to be used as character witnesses against the doctor and his reported propensity to perform unnecessary surgeries. The probative value of the evidence in this case, the court ruled, was minimal.

The doctor would later testify that the accident had aggravated a pre-existing condition for the plaintiff that required the surgery.

Defense presented expert witness testimony to counter the doctor’s assertion that the surgery was necessary. However, at one point, one of those witnesses described the surgeon’s treatment of plaintiff as “worse than malpractice,” that the surgeon was a “criminal,” the surgery was “unnecessary” and also an “assault.”

Despite these statements, jurors awarded plaintiff $575,000. They determined the accident aggravated plaintiff’s pre-existing condition and the surgery was necessary.

Defendants appealed, arguing the trial court erred in overruling their motion to compel discovery regarding the surgeon, finding the surgery was necessary and awarding damages based on the surgery and related medical care.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed. The trial court has discretion in deciding motions pertaining to discovery, and the higher courts will only review for an abuse of that discretion. It was concluded based on the record that the lower court clearly understood the records defendants sought to obtain, knew the purpose they wished to use them for and chose not to. There was no indication that the trial would have reached a different conclusion had the court decided otherwise.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Moreno v. City of Gering, April 15, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

2015 brought biggest increase in car accident deaths in 50 years, March 10, 2016, Miami Bus Accident Attorney Blog

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