Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education

Pa. Supreme Court Reduces Jury Award in School Bus Accident

By Mark Walsh — November 21, 2014 2 min read

Pennsylvania’s highest court has upheld two lower courts that drastically reduced the damages awarded to a student who lost a leg and suffered other injuries when she was struck by a school bus.

The state Supreme Court ruled 6-0 that a $14 million jury award to Ashley Zauflik for medical expenses and compensation for past and future pain and suffering had to be reduced to $500,000—the state law limit on damages that may be recovered from a local government agency under Pennsylvania’s Tort Claims Act.

Zauflik suffered a crushed pelvis and an amputation of her left leg above the knee in 2007 when a bus driven by an employee of the Pennsbury school district accelerated out of control and drove onto a sidewalk, striking 20 students. The school district admitted liability, but said damages were capped by the state law.

While a jury awarded Zauflik about $3 million for medical expenses and $11 million for pain and suffering, the trial judge held that state court precedents required that the jury award be reduced to fit the statutory cap. A midlevel state appellate court agreed, and in its Nov. 19 decision in Zauflik v. Pennsbury School District, the state supreme court also held that the limit applies.

“The facts here are tragic, involving a school student who suffered grievous injuries caused by the uncontested negligence of the school district’s employee,” Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille wrote for the court. “But ... the conclusion that the General Assembly is in the better position than this court to address the complicated public policy questions raised by the larger controversy has substantial force.”

Lawyers for Zauflik argued that the result violated equal-protection principles under the state constitution because, among other reasons, the student would have recovered the full damages award if the schoolbus had been operated by a private company. They also argued that the district was well-insured and that full liability for “torts” promotes accountability and accident prevention.

The state high court rejected the arguments. It noted that Zauflik “suffered a catastrophic injury” and merely wants the school district “to take responsibility and make her whole.”

“This is a simply-stated but powerful position,” Chief Justice Castille wrote. “On the other hand, local agencies and municipalities have very real concerns about their ability to preserve their financial stability so that they may continue to serve the public and provide critical services to their citizens, especially their poorest residents. That unpredictable and catastrophic losses can wreak financial havoc is another simply-stated but powerful argument.”

Justice Max Baer wrote a concurrence, joined by two other justices, calling on the state legislature to increase the statutory cap on damages that can be recovered from school districts and other local governments.

(Hat Tip to How Appealing for this decision.)

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
Larkspur, California
Tamalpais Union High School District
Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read