December 18, 2017 | By: Oatley Vigmond, Troy Lehman, Erin Murray, Charles Jung
Barrie jury makes landmark award of $7 million to a young woman who suffered a completely avoidable brain injury in a school bus incident
It was the last day of grade 8 in June 2011 for 13 year-old Sarah Little when she was injured in a school bus incident that went terribly wrong. Over the years she had witnessed other grade 8 students jumping out of the back door of her school bus on the last day of school.
The bus driver, who was entrusted to keep children safe, saw kids jumping out of the back door over a period of several years and did nothing to stop the practice. The driver knew the practice was dangerous, both because of the height of the jump and because other drivers are not expecting kids to jump out of the back of a school bus.
The driver failed to report the incident over several years to the school and the activity became a tradition that the children believed was condoned by the driver. The school principal was unaware of the situation and testified that she would have put an immediate stop to the practice had she known. She testified she was frustrated by the bus driver’s failure to report it.
Sarah Little had never attempted the jump before, but on her last day of grade 8 she decided to do what she had seen many other students do before, and jump out the back of the bus. Tragically, she jumped before the bus came to a stop and somersaulted, striking her head on the pavement. The force of the impact was severe enough to that she suffered fractures to multiple parts of her skull. She was left with injuries and impairments that doctors predict will leave her her unable to work or live independently for the rest of her life.
In Canada, companies are liable for the negligence of their employees. The jury found the bus company – Floyd Sinton Ltd., now operating as Sinton Landmark Transportation – liable for the drivers’ failure
– To follow clear expectations set out in the company handbook about reporting unsafe behavior to the school
– For failing to report re-occurring unsafe acts
– For failing to fulfill their duty to keep children safe
“This case sets an important precedent for people in charge of children to stop unsafe activity quickly before it snowballs and someone gets badly hurt,” says Sarah’s lawyer, Troy Lehman of Oatley Vigmond, “It would have been very easy for the bus company to have prevented this tragedy from happening. All that was needed was a report to the principal and the activity would have been stopped and the tragedy prevented. Allowing children to get away with a dangerous activity means they will continue to do it. But condoning an activity like this, you create a very dangerous situation.”
The jury found Sarah partially responsible for her injuries for jumping out of an emergency door in a non-emergency situation. They found the bus company to be 75% at fault and Sarah to be 25% at fault, meaning that Sarah’s damages were reduced from over $9 million to $7 million.
This result was a great success for Oatley Vigmond. It is one of the largest jury awards in the Province and will mean that Sarah will be able to live a life of dignity with all the care that she needs.