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September 12, 2013

Case Report
Michael S. Appel

$4 million settlement for child victim of school bus accident

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Sugarman Rogers’ partner Michael S. Appel recently obtained a $4 million settlement for the parents of an eleven-year-old girl who suffered a brain injury when the school bus in which she was riding rear-ended another bus. The driver admitted she had turned to reprimand another child on the bus and taken her eyes off the road just before the collision.

After the accident, the child developed significant cognitive and behavioral problems, and memory loss. The main dispute in the case was about whether these resulted from a brain injury suffered when the child struck her head in the accident, or from some other cause.

The minor plaintiff was a passenger on a school bus which collided with another bus causing the plaintiff to fall out of her seat and strike her head on the floor of the bus. On the day of the accident the plaintiff was seen by her family physician as well as in a hospital emergency room and was noted to be complaining of various post-concussive symptoms. There was no physical evidence of head injury i.e., no bruising, redness or head swelling and findings on MRI scans were negative.

The plaintiff’s symptoms, however, continued to worsen with significant memory loss, cognitive impairments and severe behavioral problems. She was diagnosed with longstanding and persistent post-concussive syndrome, anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. As a result of her traumatic brain injury and resulting cognitive and behavioral impairments, she was not able to return to her regular school and was granted an out-of-district placement at a special education school for children with disabilities.

A life care planner retained by the plaintiff was expected to testify that the plaintiff would most likely require highly-structured daily care for the rest of her life and would need to be placed in a neurologic supervised living program. The defendants’ experts were expected to testify that the plaintiff most likely did not suffer a head injury and fabricated a story about what had happened to her during the accident. The defense experts were expected to testify that plaintiff’s behavioral changes were caused in part by pre-existing psychological problems and in part by various secondary gain motivations.

The case settled after mediation conducted by Paul Finn of Commonwealth Mediation.