Taking Accountability into Account 

WPDN recently represented a client that assumed responsibility for a fatal bus crash in 2014, which resulted in three deaths. Another victim of the accident sued WPDN’s client, Powder River Transportation, for $28 million, and was awarded $310,000. In addition to Powder River Transportation, the Plaintiff also sought damages from the driver of the bus, Ms. Rhoda Steel. 

WPDN, on behalf of their client, admitted liability before the case began, but disputed the amount of money being asked for punitive damages. 

The case, which took place in Campbell County, was presided over by District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke, and it was tried in front of a jury of 13, eight men and five women. Anna Mitchell, of Aladdin Wyoming, was seeking $28 million in damages for the pain, suffering, emotional distress and loss of quality of life as the result of a 2014 crash on Highway 59, in Wyoming. 

WPDN Attorney’s Ryan Schwartz and Pat Murphy agreed that a terrible accident had occurred and that their clients, Powder River Transportation, as well as Ms. Steel, were liable. They did not agree, however, that $28 million was a realistic sum to be awarded. This was what Pat and Ryan argued, and the court agreed. 

The plaintiff’s attorneys alleged that the accident had damaged their client’s vertebrae and spinal cord, necessitating multiple neck surgeries. The defense argued that the plaintiff had preexisting injuries, unrelated to the accident and the jury agreed.

The plaintiff was also seeking punitive damages. Punitive damages are, according to Schwartz, “a dangerous aspect of litigation for defendants.  The amount awarded for punitive damages depends on the financial condition of the defendant, and the jury is asked to determine an amount which will send a message to the defendant (and others similarly situated) that the conduct was not acceptable.  It is not based on actual damage suffered by the Plaintiff.”

Schwartz and Murphy successfully argued against the punitive damage claim. Judge Rumpke agreed, and the charges of punitive damages were dismissed prior to the trial.

The two opposing sides then argued the rest of the case. 

After deliberating for two hours, the jury returned to the courtroom and awarded the plaintiff $310,000 for damages suffered. 

There is never a victory when lives are lost and people are injured, but the judgment offered by the court was deemed fair by the client and its representative.

“We had a really wonderful client and client representative,” Ryan Schwartz stated. “They actually personally knew some of the folks who were hurt in the accident. It was a very personal case for them. One of the men that died in the accident was actually a relative of the owner of the company.”

In August of 2015, the driver of the bus pleaded guilty to three amended charges of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. She felt enormous guilt for her part in the accident and further noted that it was, in fact, she who was at fault. 

“There was a very emotional moment during the trial,” Schwartz stated, “where the driver of the bus had a complete emotional breakdown while asking for forgiveness.” 

It was a hard case for all parties involved, but WPDN’s client assumed responsibility and they believe that the $310,000 verdict was a just and fair decision.