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School bus driver not to blame for accident

Plaintiff’s witness biased against company, lawyer says

Donna Walter//November 4, 2013//

School bus driver not to blame for accident

Plaintiff’s witness biased against company, lawyer says

Donna Walter//November 4, 2013//

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An accident involving a tractor-trailer and a school bus was not the fault of the bus company, a St. Louis jury said, taking just an hour to come back with a defense verdict.

Patrick McCusker, of Thompson, Ill., sued Cincinnati-based First Student Inc. and bus driver Kimberly Hemphill after Hemphill and McCusker were involved in a sideswipe accident on June 30, 2010. Both drivers tried to turn left onto northbound North Broadway from the two-lane Interstate 70 exit ramp near O’Fallon Park and Recreation Center. The bus was in the left lane, and the tractor-trailer was in the right lane. The left turn was legal from both lanes; in fact, a sign at the exit prohibits right turns.

McCusker claimed Hemphill sideswiped his tractor-trailer, and Hemphill claimed McCusker sideswiped her bus, said defense lawyer Thomas J. Magee, of the St. Louis office of HeplerBroom. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Gregory T. Mueller, of The Mueller  Law Practice in St. Louis, agreed with Magee’s description of the dispute.

At the gas station across North Broadway from the exit ramp, one witness saw the accident. He supported the plaintiff’s version of events, but he appeared to have credibility issues, Magee said.

“He at one time had been employed by First Student as a bus driver but had to resign when he was convicted of a felony,” the defense lawyer said. “I argued he had an ax to grind against the company.”

Mueller said the case was a difficult one for the plaintiff. Not only was liability contested, but also a nearly $200,000 workers’ compensation lien “made the case impossible to settle,” he said. McCusker worked for an unidentified trucking company based in Oklahoma, and its workers’ compensation carrier would not negotiate, Mueller said.

He also said the police officer who prepared the accident report wasn’t available to testify at the trial.

Magee said the bus driver, who had been laid off after the St. Louis Public School District eliminated some bus routes, was a good witness. And the damage to the bus seemed consistent with her story: that the truck hit her and pulled the bus forward, he said.

McCusker alleged he injured his neck and back in the accident and had to undergo fusion surgery at C5-6, which is part of the neck. According to Magee, McCusker claimed to have needed three separate fusion surgeries on the same part of his neck.

“We disputed that it was related to the accident,” Magee said, because it was a light-impact accident. He said the defense argued McCusker’s problem was a pre-existing condition.

He said McCusker alleged $125,000 in medical expenses, of which $62,000 were paid, as well as $408,000 in past and future lost wages. The defense argued McCusker’s experts were overstating his income.

Defense verdict

Motor vehicle collision

Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 1222-CC02366/Oct. 2, 2013

Judge: Rex Burlison

Plaintiff’s Experts: R. Tyler Boone, Tulsa, Okla. (orthopedic surgery); Ronald E. Missun, Louisville, Ky. (vocational economics); Jacquelyn Vega Velez, Louisville, Ky. (vocational economics)

Special Damages: $125,000 in medical expenses/$62,000 in paid medical expenses; $408,000 in past and future lost wages

Last Pretrial Demand: $600,000

Last Pretrial Offer: $75,000

Insurer: Self-insured

Caption: Patrick McCusker v. First Student Inc. and Kimberly Hemphill

Plaintiff’s Attorney: Gregory T. Mueller, Mueller Law Practice, St. Louis

Defendants’ Attorneys: Thomas J. Magee and Kate A. Aplington, HeplerBroom, St. Louis

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