Barbara Allgeier, 65, was a wheelchair passenger in a Transit Authority of River City (TARC) paratransit bus. The bus, maintained and operated by MV Transportation Inc., was equipped with a lift mechanism to assist passengers in wheelchairs.
After the bus arrived at Allgeier’s stop, the driver removed the four wheelchair safety restraints and exited the bus to lower the platform. He positioned the platform too low, making it uneven with the floor of the bus, and Allgeier and the chair fell onto the lift. She lay on the metal lift platform in 25-degree weather as two MV Transportation supervisors arrived at the scene, interviewed the driver, and took photos. No one from the company spoke to Allgeier. An ambulance was not called until about 25 minutes after the incident.
Allgeier suffered multiple leg fractures, including five to the left femur and four to the right femur. Because she has advanced multiple sclerosis, she was not a candidate for surgical repair with stabilizing hardware. Instead, her legs were placed in heavy casts, and she remained on her back for 230 days.
Before the incident, Allgeier could care for herself with minimal assistance. She is now unable to operate her wheelchair or perform basic tasks such as using the bathroom unassisted, combing her hair, turning the pages of a book, or working at her computer. She has not used the transit system since the incident. Her past medical expenses totaled about $74,600.
Allgeier sued MV Transportation, alleging its driver was negligent in lowering the lift platform too far, causing the wheelchair to drop; and in removing her safety restraints before lowering the platform, in violation of company policy. The plaintiff presented testimony from an MV Transportation supervisor that the company’s written policy required the driver to lower the lift platform into place before removing a wheelchair passenger’s safety restraints and that the policy was not enforced until after Allgeier was injured.
Suit also alleged negligent hiring and failure to conduct a proper background check.
The plaintiff offered evidence that the driver had answered “no” to a question on the employment application asking whether she had a history of alcohol abuse but that two of her supervisors were aware that she was living in a halfway house transitioning from alcoholism treatment. One supervisor testified that had he known beforehand that the driver was living in an alcohol rehabilitation program, he would not have hired her.
The plaintiff did not claim future medical expenses or lost earnings.
The jury awarded about $4.17 million, including $4.1 million for past and present pain and suffering and just over $70,000 in medical expenses. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial. The plaintiff has moved for a new trial on her punitive damages claim, which was dismissed on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Citation: Allgeier v. MV Transp., Inc., No. 07-CI-11559 (Ky., Jefferson Co. Cir. Sept. 16, 2010).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members B. Todd Thompson and Brian S. Brownfield, both of Louisville, Kentucky; and Millicent A. Tanner, also of Louisville.