Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government Ordered to Pay Damages, Costs to Injured Bus Passenger

The plaintiff in this case, Eileen Laday, was a passenger on a bus owned by the Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government. The bus had been donated to the City-Parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When the bus was donated, it was missing a plexiglass shield that was designed to keep the bus door from coming into contact with passengers. As Ms. Laday sat in the front seat, the door opened and trapped her arm. She was not consistent about how long her arm was trapped.

Ms. Laday went to a doctor the next day, complaining of neck and shoulder pain radiating into her right arm. The doctor ordered an MRI, which showed degenerative cervical disc conditions as well as a disc herniation. She later saw an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended that she undergo surgery. As of the date of trial, she had not yet had the surgery, which was estimated to cost between $60,492.60 and $61,492.60.

The judge conducted a bench trial (where there is no jury) and ruled in favor of Ms. Laday because of the high standard of care imposed on common carries like operators of public buses. He awarded her $60,000 in general damages, $24,084.56 in past medical expenses, and $60,492.60 for future surgery costs to be placed into a reversionary trust under La.R.S. 13:5106, with interest to go to Ms. Laday.

Lafayette City-Parish appealed, claiming that the trial court was clearly wrong in believing Ms. Laday over its expert, who testified that the claimed contact between the bus door and Ms. Laday’s arm was a possible, but not probable, cause of the disc herniation. It also claimed that the court should have put the interest on the award for future medical expenses into the reversionary trust rather than giving it to Ms. Laday.

Ms. Laday, on the other hand, thought that the amount of general damages and medical expenses were abusively low, given that there were additional future medical expenses proven at trial, including follow-up visits for a year.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana considered the purpose of La.R.S. 13:5106, which was to assure that money for subsequent medical care was paid directly to a medical care provider because judgments against public entities have amounted to more than those entities are able to pay. The use of a reversionary trust ensures that a plaintiff will not take the money and use it for something else other than medical treatment. Considering the purpose of reversionary trusts, the appellate court ruled that any interest that accrued should also go into the trust rather than being paid out to the plaintiff.

The Third Circuit also found that there were follow-up medical appointments needed after the surgery, which the plaintiff had proven but the trial judge did not take into account when awarding future medical damages. The appellate court added those amounts back in, making the total amount $62,288.00 that should go into the trust.

Ms. Laday was ultimately awarded a higher amount for future medical expenses, but the money, along with the interest that would accrue on that money, would be placed in a trust to be paid directly to a doctor or other medical professional providing treatment. As a result of this award, she was able to pay for the back surgery she needed.

If you have been injured while riding on public transportation, you may be eligible for compensation from the operator of the vehicle.

Call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you.