A unanimous West Los Angeles jury, after one day of deliberation, found the City of Santa Monica and Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus negligent, and on Friday, March 10, awarded Haroun Mehdipour $2.653 million in general damages; the jury found the plaintiff 25 percent at fault, thereby reducing the defendants’ liability to $1.98 million. The jury found that Mr. Mehdipour lost his left arm and suffered traumatic brain injury from being struck by a Santa Monica Municipal Bus while he attempted to board it on May 5, 2004 at Barrington and Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles.Deputy City Attorney Lance S. Gams acknowledged that it had been “a tough case for the city,” and stated that before trial in settlement negotiations the defendants had offered just under $1 million and plaintiffs had demanded just under $5 million.On May 5, 2004, Mr. Mehdipour, then age 79, was apparently attempting to board the bus at the corner; he was walking on the sidewalk alongside the bus, touching the bus and trying to get the driver’s attention as he went toward the front door. Rather than wait, the driver closed the front door and drove off, running over Mr. Mehdipour and causing him serious injuries, resulting in the amputation of his left arm and a traumatic brain injury. The civil complaint for damages alleged, among other things, that the City of Santa Monica and Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus were negligent in the hiring and supervision of the bus driver and were thus responsible for the events.The bus system, found liable in this case, was awarded the American Public Transit Association’s 2000 Public Transportation System Outstanding Achievement Award, which is given to that bus system which demonstrates “exceptional achievement in operating efficiency and effectiveness.” At that point, the Big Blue Bus had won the award an unprecedented four times since it was inaugurated in 1983, as reported in the Mirror in October 2000. Santa Monica now operates a fleet of 190 buses and transports over 21 million people a year, according to the system’s General Manager Stephanie Negriff.”The jury found that the Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus driver violated the very rules and regulations designed to protect the public’s safety,” stated plaintiffs’ lawyer Browne Greene. “This was an entirely preventable accident had the bus driver double-checked his mirror before pulling away from the curb,” added Mr. Greene’s colleague Geoffrey S. Wells, stating that the injuries were caused by “his failure to comply with Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus’ company rules . . . [W]e hope [the verdict] sends a message to everyone involved in the public transportation industry to ramp up their driver training and safety programs.”Mr. Gams said that the city would review the three-week trial before deciding whether to appeal or otherwise challenge the verdict.
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