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Bucks County Judge Says Damages Cap Creates Unjust Result

Back in December, we wrote about a tragic accident from 2007 in which a young woman was hit by a suburban Philadelphia school bus. The accident occurred just after school was let out at Pennsbury High School. The young woman had to be put into a medically-induced coma and had to have her leg amputated.

Following the accident, an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the driver had stepped on the gas instead of the break, causing it to lurch into a group of students and leaving several injured. The young woman sued the school district, the bus driver’s employer, in a personal injury lawsuit.

In December of last year, a jury found in favor of the young woman and awarded her about $3 million to cover past and future medical costs and $11 million in punitive damages. However, because of a law from 1980, that damage award has been lowered to $500,000, not even close to enough to cover the young woman’s medical bills.

The 1980 law, called the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, caps civil damage awards against municipalities and school districts at $500,000 in personal injury lawsuits arising out of a single incident. That means when catastrophic accidents leave many people injured, the group has to share the capped damage award.

In reducing the damage award last week, a Bucks County Court judge admitted that the cap “create[d] an unfair and unjust result.” He said a “reevaluation of the constitutionality of the statutory cap on damages … is necessary.”

The decision didn’t come as a surprise. The attorney for the young woman called it “a major step forward on the long march” to the state Supreme Court. Many people are hoping that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court takes this case as an opportunity to modify the damages cap or get rid of it altogether.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Judge reduces former Bucks student’s $14M award to $500,000,” Bill Reed, May 25, 2012