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Jury Awards $15M to AC Transit Rider For Back Injury When Bus Went Too Fast Over Speed Bump

An Alameda County jury has awarded $15.3 million in damages to a Richmond woman and her daughter for back injuries the woman suffered when an AC Transit bus she was riding in went over a speed bump in San Pablo at twice the speed limit.

Maria Francisco's attorneys, Brian Parish and Spencer Lucas of Los Angeles, said that on Aug. 27, 2011, Francisco and her daughter, Mia, were traveling with other family members to a shopping mall to buy gifts for a birthday celebration.

However, they said the bus went over a speed bump in a school zone at more than twice the legal speed limit and Francisco, who was 20 at the time, was thrown into the air and landed with such extreme force that it caused a severe traumatic burst fracture to her L1 vertebra.

Her attorneys said Francisco immediately cried out in pain and her family called for an ambulance but bus driver Dollie Gilmore began verbally attacking  Francisco, including accusing her of lying about her injury and threatening her with prosecution.

Mia, Francisco's daughter, who was four years old at the time, witnessed the entire incident and Gilmore's threats, according to her attorneys.

The entire incident, including Gilmore's conduct, was captured on videotape by AC Transit cameras.

Parish and Lucas said that as a result of Francisco's injury, she has had three spine surgeries, including a spinal fusion, and has been in chronic pain and severely limited in her daily activities, including being unable to work, since the incident.

Francisco's attorneys said AC Transit waited until two days before trial to admit liability for her injury and then offered her a $2.75 million settlement.

They said that during the trial in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Gail Brewster Bereola, AC Transit disputed the necessity of the surgeries Francisco underwent, including the emergency spine surgery recommended and performed by doctors a few days after the incident.

Francisco's attorneys said the bus agency also challenged every other aspect of her damages, including her future medical expenses, loss of earnings and pain and suffering, suggesting that she was lying and exaggerating the nature of her injury.

In their verdict earlier this week, jurors awarded Francisco a total of $10 million for past and future pain and suffering, $3.38 million for past and future medical expenses, $800,000 for future loss of earnings and $127,472 for past family services.

Jurors also awarded Mia, Francisco's daughter, $1 million for past and future emotional distress for witnessing the incident.

Parish and Lucas said the damages award for Francisco and her daughter is largest known jury verdict against AC Transit.

Parish said in a statement, "Through no fault of her own, Ms. Francisco suffered an extremely painful injury that will continue to impact her for the rest of her life."

Parish said, "Rather than accepting responsibility for its negligence, AC Transit instead chose to challenge Ms. Francisco's credibility. That tactic didn't work, and the jury did the right thing with this verdict."

Parish said, "This verdict will ensure that Ms. Francisco is able to get the long term treatment that she needs and will be able to take care of herself and her daughter. That is what this case was about."

AC Transit said in a statement today that the $15.3 million jury award was less than half of what Francisco was seeking but the agency still considers the amount to be "excessive" and not supported by the facts and the law.

However, the bus agency said it acknowledges that it was responsible for the accident.

AC Transit added that it "is considering all available post-verdict remedies."

Gilmore is still working for bus agency, according to spokesman Clarence Johnson.

--Bay City News

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