A recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision upheld a decision awarding a 13-year old girl over $7,00,000 in damages for her injuries after she jumped out of the back of a moving school bus.
In 2011, a 13-year old girl jumped from the back of a moving school bus and suffered catastrophic injuries.
The accident occurred on June 29, 2011, on the last day of the girl’s Grade 8 school year, when she was returning home on the school bus. The girl and her twin sister had taken the school bus to and from school for a number of years. The girl had been trained as a bus patroller and was taught how to open the emergency door at the back of the school bus. She understood that it was dangerous to jump from the back of a school bus when it was moving.
Nevertheless, on that day, the girl decided to jump from the back of the school bus as it approached her home stop. This was in keeping with an informal tradition that had evolved among the graduating Grade 8 students at her school.
The girl discussed the plan to jump with her sister and other students on the bus. Numerous students on the bus tried to dissuade her from jumping from the moving school bus, repeating to her what she already knew was a very dangerous act.
As the school bus approached her home stop, when it was travelling between 20 to 25 kilometres per hour, the girl dashed to the back of the bus, opened the emergency exit door, which had to remain unlocked or the bus would not start, and jumped.
After jumping out of the bus, the girl fell and hit her head. She suffered a catastrophic head injury from which she will never recover; she is incapable with respect to her personal care and property and she will likely never be able to work or live independently.
Lower Court Decision
Following a four-week jury trial, the girl was found 25% contributorily negligent for her injuries. The jury’s assessed damages of $9,376,800 were therefore reduced to an award of $7,032,600 in damages.
The jury found the bus company in charge of the school bus 75% liable for the girl’s injuries because it “failed to follow clear expectations as set out in their own handbook” by its “failure to report re-occurring unsafe acts”; these acts consisted of Grade 8 students jumping from the back of school buses on the last day of school. While one of the bus company’s drivers had reported students jumping from the school bus at the end of term between 2007 and 2009, no report of these incidents had been communicated to the school; this was contrary to the bus company’s handbook that required such incidents be reported to the school.
Court of Appeal Decision
The bus company did not appeal on the issue of the jury’s finding that it breached its standard of care, nor did it dispute the nature and scope of the girls injuries or the quantum of the damages, per se, awarded as they relate to those injuries.
However, the bus company submitted that the girl’s damages should be reduced, or a new trial ordered, because of the errors that the trial judge made and because of jury errors that led to a liability verdict that was unreasonable and unjust.
After reviewing the bus company’s points of appeal and the lower court judgment, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on most issues.
[Of note: The court did allow the appeal in part on one issue of appeal and remitted for hearing to a judge of the Superior Court of Justice the issue of the deduction of past statutory accident benefits.]
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