A Maryland appeals court has reinstated a jury’s verdict – but not its $90.3 million damages award – for the parents of a 13-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a car six years ago while crossing a four-lane street while trying to reach her school-bus stop in Temple Hills. The Court of Special Appeals said the trial judge was wrong to toss out the jury’s verdict against the Prince George’s County Board of Education based on his erroneous finding that it owed no duty of care to the girl and that her negligent crossing of the street contributed to her death.
In its 3-0 decision, the intermediate court said the board owed a duty to the girl under a regulation governing bus-stop locations and that a jury reasonably concluded she was not contributory negligent.
“It was a very important ruling by the court,” said the family’s attorney, John F. X. Costello. “Because that regulation was not complied with, this little girl was forced to cross the street.”
The Court of Special Appeals, however, said state law calls for the award to be reduced to the school board’s insurance policy limit, but not to less than $100,000. The board has the defense of sovereign immunity from damages for amounts greater, the court said in remanding the case to Prince George’s County Circuit Court to determine the award…
“Many of these governmental caps have not been adjusted in [many] years and are drawing the attention of the General Assembly,” said Maloney, of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt.
…The Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury had found in April 2013 that the school board fatally breached its duty of care to Ashley Davis by not providing a school-bus stop on the same side of Brinkley Road as her home, thus requiring the freshman at Crossland High School in Temple Hills to cross the four-lane thoroughfare.
Ashley was killed while crossing Brinkley Road on Sept. 1, 2009. The driver admitted no liability in reaching a $20,000 settlement with the family.
The jury, in finding the school board liable, concluded that Ashely was not contributory negligent…
…But the Court of Special Appeals reinstated the verdict, citing Maryland State Board of Education regulation 13A.06.07.13, which pertains to “Reporting and Operating Procedures.” Subsection C of the regulation states that “on four-lane highways, students shall be picked up and discharged on the side of the roadway where they reside.”
Subsection C is “designed to protect public-school students who ride county-provided buses to and from school from the risks associated with crossing a four-lane highway, including the risk of being hit by a car,” Judge Deborah S. Eyler wrote in the appellate court’s reported opinion filed Friday.
“As a public-school student living on a four-lane highway, in a school district in which the board had taken it upon itself to provide bus transportation to school, Ashley was within the specific class of people that [Subsection C] was designed to protect,” Eyler added. “And she suffered precisely the kind of injury that the regulation was intended to protect against. Accordingly, the board owed Ashley a legal duty of care to provide a bus stop on her side of Brinkley Road sufficient to support the duty element of a cause of action in negligence.”…
… Section 4-105 of the Maryland Education Article requires county school boards to have at least $100,000 in liability coverage. Section 5-518 of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, titled “Immunity – County boards of education” provides that the boards “may raise the defense of sovereign immunity to any amount claimed above the limit of its insurance policy….”