For 11-year-old Isabella Sanchez of Highland, life is a struggle after being hit by a car while crossing the street to get on a school bus. But her mother says the fact that a jury recently awarded her $36.1 million will go a long way in paying for her medical bills.
"When I heard that verdict, it made me feel that Isabella is going to get the proper care that she's going to need for the rest of her life," said Carina Sanchez. "She's a warrior, she fights for her life every day."
The crash happened on Oct. 3, 2012, near the intersection of Victoria and 9th in Highland. Sanchez says as her daughter saw the school bus approach the bus stop, she crossed the street to board it. But she was not in a crosswalk and was struck by a car.
"I didn't know how bad the accident was. I didn't know how severely my daughter got hurt," said Sanchez. She says she rushed to the hospital, where she was told the situation was critical. "I saw her body lying there, and I was just thinking, why wasn't I there for you?"
Sanchez described her daughter's brain injuries as severe.
"She had her flap removed because her brain needed that oxygen," said Sanchez. "She had broken her leg, her arm, her pelvis was broken."
Sanchez stayed by her daughter's side at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital for three months before she was discharged. It was around that time that Sanchez hired a lawyer.
"I didn't realize how dangerous it was," said Sanchez about the situation near the bus stop. She admits that her daughter did not use a crosswalk, but says the bus company, Durham School Services, was also negligent. "They are trained to see this danger while maybe you and I can't see it."
"This is a preventable tragedy, this should not have occurred," said Andy Basseri, one of the victim's attorneys. In the lawsuit against Durham School Services, Basseri claimed that not only did the school bus not have its flashing lights and stop signs engaged, but the school bus drivers who were assigned to the route never reported to their superiors that it was regular practice for students to cross the street illegally to get on the bus.
"Possibly the bus stop location would have been moved," said Basseri. "The bus driver didn't report that to the supervisor or to the higher ups to be able to do something about this."
The trial lasted five weeks, and the jury deliberated for two days before voting 11-1 in favor of Isabella Sanchez. When they divided levels of responsibility for Isabella's injuries, the jury found that the bus company was 50 percent at fault, and the bus driver was 30 percent at fault. But Isabella's mother was also ruled to be at fault, to a degree of 20 percent, for allowing her daughter to cross the street outside a crosswalk. Both Isabella, who was 6 years old, and the driver of the car that struck her, who was traveling under the speed limit, were ruled not to be at fault.
On Friday, Carina Sanchez says her daughter cannot speak, needs a wheelchair for mobility and requires the care of a nurse 24 hours a day. Her attorneys say that cost alone is close to $360,000 a year.
The jury awarded Isabella Sanchez nearly $19 million for medical expenses, and $16 million for past and future pain and suffering. The total award was $36.1 million.
"This is an important victory for Isabella and the community," said lead plaintiff attorney Geoffrey Wells. "We hope this will lead to drivers being more vigilant about bus stop safety."
Durham School Services declined to comment on the verdict.
School bus company ruled at fault in case of Highland girl injured while crossing street