Saturday, September 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

$14 million verdict reduced to $500,000

Judge upholds state limit on awards in case of former Pennsbury High School who lost her left leg in a bus accident.

$14 million verdict reduced to $500,000

Blog Image
Ashley Zauflik outside the courtroom during last year's jury trial. (Bill Reed/Staff)

The $14 million verdict awarded a former Pennsbury High School student who lost her left leg in a bus accident was reduced Thursday to the state limit of $500,000.

“There is no dispute that the circumstances of this case create an unfair and unjust result” Bucks County Judge Robert J. Mellon said while upholding the liability limit on school districts and municipalities. A “reevaluation of the constitutionality of the statutory cap on damages … is necessary.”

A jury awarded Ashley Zauflik, 22, of Fairless Hills more than $14 million in December, after a four-day trial that detailed her debilitating injury from the 2007 accident.  The district conceded responsibility for the accident, in which its out-of-control bus ran over the young woman and about 19 other students.

If the bus had been owned by an outside company, Zauflik probably could have collected the jury’s award, Mellon said in his ruling. And the state cap blocked use of the district’s $11 million insurance policy, he said.

Mellon’s ruling had been expected, but Zauflik’s lawyer called it “a major step forward on the long march” to the state Supreme Court.

“He said it loud and clear – the Pennsylvania Supreme Court needs to revisit the injustice of the current law,” Thomas Kline said.

Mellon also awarded  Kline’s firm $5,000 because Pennsbury withheld information about the $11 million policy.  

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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