$20.5 Million Jury Verdict Against School District In Death of Teen Killed While Walking To Bus Stop

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On July 30, 2015, the San Bernardino personal injury attorneys at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, lead by Rahul Ravipudi, Deborah Chang, Tom Schultz and Matthew Stumpf obtained a $20,500,000 jury verdict for the mother of a high school student who was killed while crossing the street to get to a school district designated bus stop.

The San Bernardino Superior Court jury rejected defendant Chaffey Join Union School District’s attempt to place blame for the accident on the 15-year old student, Jin Ouk Burnham, and the driver that hit him, instead assigning 100% liability to the School District. The verdict followed the trial court’s finding that the School District hid evidence in an attempt to avoid responsibility for the tragic collision.

On December 6, 2010, Jin was walking to a school bus stop that required him to cross an uncontrolled, five-lane highway. California law prohibits bus stops “on a divided or multiple-lane highway where pupils must cross the highway to board…unless traffic is controlled…”. (13 Cal. Code Regs.§1238(b)(3)). The School District had previously eliminated a bus stop closer to Jin’s home that would not have required him to cross the highway. While attempting to cross the road, Jin was hit by a driver that said she did not see him. He died of his injuries on December 21, 2010. Rather than admit to its error, the School District claimed that the previously eliminated stop was available on the date of Jin’s collision. It was not. Rather, the School District had again designated it as a stop shortly after his death.

During closing arguments, the School District’s attorney, Stephen Harber of McCune & Harber, LLP, contended that Jin and the driver should also be found at fault for the accident and claimed that the relationship between Jin and his mother, who had finalized his adoption a year before his death, was worth only $1,500,000. Rejecting those arguments, the jury found the School District completely at fault for the collision and awarded Jin’s mother $20,500,000 in past and future non-economic damages.

“Although no verdict can bring Jin back, we hope that this decision serves as a lesson to other school districts that student safety should be paramount. Although the school district attempted to cover up what happened, we fought for the truth and the truth prevailed.” said attorney Rahul Ravipudi.

This is Panish Shea & Boyle LLP’s fifteenth verdict of $10,000,000 or more in the last five years. Four of those eight-figure verdicts were in wrongful death cases.

Read the July 31, 2015 Daily Journal Article here

Read the Trial Court’s Sanctions Order here