UPDATE, JAN. 24, 12:18 P.M.: Before trial started, Orange Unified School District and the five injured students ag
reed to a $10 million settlement, according to a plaintiff lawyer.
No word yet from OUSD.
Referring to the three years it took to arrive at an agreement, attorney Michael Penn said, “Despite delay and denial, we successfully held the school district accountable for having a medically impaired employee behind the wheel of a vehicle that was transporting the clients’ most precious cargo, their children. OUSD ignored a number of clear warning signs and opportunities to look after the safety of its students.” Penn and his Aitken Aitken Cole law firm colleagues Darren and Christopher Aitken represented the lead plaintiff Tyler Taing et al. v. Orange Unified School District and another passenger. In the criminal case against former school bus driver Gerald Rupple, the jury trial date has been pushed back to Feb. 17.
ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 17, 5:15 A.M.: Starting today, separate Orange County courtrooms over the next couple weeks are scheduled to deal with the same April 24, 2014, school bus crash in Anaheim Hills that injured five children.
Trial is set to begin in Santa Ana this morning in Taing et al. v. Orange Unified School District, a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of five children who sustained “severe and permanent” injuries in the accident, according to their lawyers.
Driver Gerald Douglass Rupple, who the Orange County District Attorney’s office slapped with criminal charges, has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Jan. 31 while his jury trial is set for Feb.
7 17. The now-former school bus driver could get 19 years in prison if he is convicted.
Rupple, 26, was taking the students home from Anaheim’s El Rancho Charter Middle School, which is within the Orange Unified boundaries, just before 3:40 p.m. when he lost consciousness behind the wheel of the yellow school bus that was going about 50 mph.
The bus swerved over traffic lanes, went off the road and into some trees before landing on one side. Broken bones, bleeding on the brain, a shattered spine and a toe amputation were among the injuries suffered by the children.
Rupple was charged with child abuse and endangerment and perjury by declaration counts as well as sentencing enhancements for causing great bodily injury. The perjury count stems from the defendant failing to tell a doctor who examined him for a commercial drivers license or school district officials who interviewed him for the bus driver job that he had a condition that causes dizziness, seizures and blackouts, prosecutors allege.
The defense attorney counters that physicians who examined Rupple and the California Department of Motor Vehicles cleared him to drive school buses.
The defense and plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit agree that the Orange Unified School District was at fault for the bus crash, according to the students’ attorneys Katherine Harvey-Lee and Nicole K. H. Maldonado of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman of Los Angeles; Christopher Aitken and Michael A. Penn of Aitken, Aitken & Cohn of Santa Ana; and Arun Dayalan of the Shawn Steel Law Firm of Seal Beach.
The issue before Judge Andrew P. Banks’ court is the true nature and extent of the injuries that were sustained in the crash. Knowing that will inform the amount of financial damages.
It could be staggering. The Baum Hedlund firm is seeking for its two clients recoveries for personal injuries and monetary compensation for past and future damages, future economic and special damages, medical care, future lost earnings and impaired earning capacity, past and future mental and emotional distress, costs for litigation and prejudgment interest from the date of the accident through to the date of the judgment.
Dana John McCune and Babak Shirdel of McCune & Harper of Los Angeles are representing Orange Unified.
Opening statements on the fifth floor of Orange County Superior Court could begin as soon as Thursday.