Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorneys Brian Panish, Rahul Ravipudi and Robert Glassman obtained a landmark $23,500,000 settlement on behalf of the family of a 19-year-old non-verbal autistic student who tragically died aboard a Whittier school bus after the driver left him behind to engage in a sexual tryst with a coworker. The Plaintiffs were also represented in the case by Sang “Nathan” Yun of the Yun Law Firm.
On the morning of September 11, 2015, Hun Joon “Paul” Lee boarded a Pupil Transportation Cooperative (PTC) school bus carrying two additional special needs students and traveled to Sierra Vista Adult School in Whittier, California. The driver, Armando Ramirez, distracted by text messages from his lover, failed to ensure that Paul had exited the bus at his destination. Mr. Ramirez then returned the bus to the yard, oblivious to the fact that the nearly six-foot and over 300 pound young man was still aboard, and quickly exited to meet his lover for a sexual tryst without first performing his required child check and post-trip sweep of the bus. When Paul failed to return home from school, his mother notified the Whittier Union High School District and his lifeless body was found inside the sweltering school bus. Text messages and deposition testimony from the bus driver and his lover confirm that while the two were engaged in their affair, Paul remained trapped on the parked bus for hours, unable to escape on one of the hottest days of the year.
Six months following Paul’s passing, Mr. Ramirez was arrested and charged with felony dependent abuse resulting in death. In January 2017, he plead guilty to the crime and was sentenced to two-years in state prison. “Paul Lee was the center of the Lee family’s universe and his horrific death is an immeasurable loss,” says Rahul Ravipudi. “Not only was it the direct product of criminal actions by the bus driver, but the systematic failures of Pupil Transportation Cooperative and others. Through this litigation, we have learned that PTC is not unique and that children are left behind in school busses all over the country and all too often. We’re hoping that bringing these issues to light will force bus companies to do the right thing and be vigilant in enforcing lawful and safe practices to protect our children.”
The death of Paul Lee has been a catalyst for significant changes in both the policies of the Whittier Union High School District (WUHSD) and California law pertaining to the safety of students traveling to and from school by bus. WUHSD has implemented protocols to call a student’s home and/or the bus company if he/she does not appear in class within 30 minutes of school starting, instituting ID cards and establishing bus monitors to track all students who enter/exit the bus, as well as requiring students to be placed on air conditioned buses if requested.
In September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law” requiring all school buses in the state of California to be equipped with a child safety alarm system that must be deactivated by the bus driver before departing the bus. Authored by Senator Tony Mendoza, the new law also requires bus drivers to receive training in child-safety check procedures.
“We are proud that Mr. and Mrs. Lee have taken steps to make sure the tragedy that has befallen them will not strike another family,” Mr. Ravipudi added. “The Lee family and our firm will continue to be vigilant in monitoring not just the Defendants, but all school bussing operations, in a continued effort to protect students and families from needless tragedies like the death of Paul Lee.”
Pupil Transportation Cooperative was represented in the case by Randall L. Winet of Winet Patrick Gayer Creighton & Hanes.
Watch Brian Panish on Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield here
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