Southern California Jury Hands Down $26M Verdict in Case of Teen’s Wrongful Death Aboard Sightseeing Bus

BusIn what may have been the largest ever judgment in a case involving a wrongful death of a minor in California, a jury in Compton recently awarded the parents of a Manhattan Beach teen $26 million after the boy died aboard a sightseeing bus, according to The Beach Reporter. The damages award was the culmination of a case finding liable both the bus company and the parents who rented the bus as part of their daughter’s birthday party.

The event that led to the teen’s tragic death was initially a festive one:  the “Sweet 16” party of another teen, T.S. Part of the party’s festivities included a ride on a double-decker sightseeing bus. The tour bus was traveling along the 405 freeway, and several of the teens, including M.Z., were standing up on the bus’ upper deck. As the bus passed by the Spruce Street overpass in Inglewood, M.Z.’s head hit the overpass.

M.Z. died two days later. In the aftermath of the accident and the boy’s removal from life support, his parents brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the tour bus company, Starline Tours, and T.S.’s parents.

M.Z.’s parents’ case presented a relatively straightforward case of wrongful death. In California, a wrongful death claim can arise when someone, or a group of individuals or entities, commits a negligent or reckless act (or omission), and that act or omission is the proximate cause of the deceased person’s death. In M.Z.’s family’s case, M.Z.’s parents accused the tour company (including the bus driver and a tour guide), along with T.S.’s parents, of being negligent in many ways, which were a mix of wrongful omissions and wrongful actions. No one, from the guide to the driver to the chaperones, ever instructed the teens to sit down and put on their seat belts. Instead, the teens were allowed to dance and drink alcohol, some of which was provided by T.S.’s mother. The bus company provided music for the teens to dance as they traveled down the freeway. Furthermore, the bus stood more than 13 feet tall, yet it entered an area of the 405 where overpasses were as low as 15.1 feet.

The tour company attempted to shift the blame for M.Z.’s injuries onto the dead teen himself, alleging that the boy brought alcohol onto the bus and drank during the tour. California follows the legal doctrine of comparative negligence. Under the comparative negligence system, the jury must decide to which extent, if any, the victim was at fault for causing his own injuries. The greater the victim’s partial blame, the greater the reduction in his damages award.

The jury, however, was mostly not persuaded by the defense’s arguments about M.Z.’s conduct, finding him only 5% at fault. The jury found the tour company 70% at fault and T.S.’s parents 25% at fault. The jury spent more than two days calculating the family’s total present and future damages, and it set the total award at $26 million.

If you lose a loved one due to the negligent acts or omissions of another party, the law may allow you to recover damages from those who were at fault for the incident. The experienced San Mateo wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye & Fitting have many years of representing injured people and the loved ones of those killed by others’ negligence. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

California Jury Rejects Driver’s ‘Sudden Emergency’ Defense, Awards Parents $3.5M in Wrongful Death Case, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Nov. 17, 2016

California Family Recovers $23M from City for Dangerous Intersection that Led to Fatal Crash, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Oct, 5, 2016

Photo credit: Geof Sheppard at Wikimedia Commons.