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Ashley Zauflik was only 17 years-old when she was crushed underneath a runaway Harrisburg, Pennsylvania school bus. The high school student suffered pelvic and leg injuries so severe that they eventually required the amputation of her left leg just above the knee. An investigation into the crash revealed the bus driver had been at fault—stepping on the accelerator when he meant to hit the brake.
The accident occurred in January of 2007, and by late 2011, the lawsuit had gone forward. The Pennsylvania jury awarded Ashley $14 million in damages. Unfortunately, however, Ashley may only be able to recover $500,000 thanks to a technicality limiting liability for local governments and school districts. The award reduction will be argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week to determine whether local governments and school districts should be granted limited liability, or whether they should be fully responsible for the damages caused.
Although Pennsylvania law has protected local government officials from full liability, with a $500,000 cap on liability damages, this case is far more nuanced. If the school district had outsourced and employed private bus companies, as many schools choose to do, there would have been full liability. But because Ashley was run over by a school bus owned by the school district, she is effectively stripped of her $14 million jury verdict. If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides to reverse the award reduction, that could mean real changes in liability law within the state.