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Quadriplegic wins $6.4 million case against Roseville transit

The man hit his head falling from a bus in his wheelchair
By: Lien Hoang
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The City of Roseville and its transportation contractor must pay $6.4 million to a quadriplegic who fell off a city bus two years ago. A Placer County jury Friday awarded the money to Thomas Avery, who was in a wheelchair when he slid off the bus and hit his head on pavement. Avery, of Del Paso Heights, had just finished buying plants and vegetables at Denio’s for his garden on April 12, 2008. He called a Roseville paratransit bus, whose driver helped him onto a platform with a roll barrier. But on one side of the four-inch barrier, a bolt was missing, and on the other, a bolt was loose. The driver didn’t check for problems before loading Avery facing the bus, which was parked on a slope. He was supposed to face away from the bus. “They did everything you could think of wrong,” attorney Chris Wood said of MV Transportation, which runs Roseville’s transit system. He and Roger Dreyer represented Avery in the lawsuit with the Sacramento-based firm Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood, which has an office in Auburn. Now Avery, 40, has lost his short-term memory, his sense of taste and smell, and use of his right arm. He has ridden a wheelchair since a car crash in 1989. But that didn’t stop him from working at a computer-aided drafting job, volunteering to help at-risk youth, helping his nephew cook, and checking out the Kings and Rivercats. “Every day he would be out doing something, he never liked staying home,” Wood said. “That’s what gave him such a great quality of life.” Avery does none of those things anymore. Record restitution Fairfield-based MV Transportation, which operates in 24 states, declined to comment on the verdict. But Wood said that in court, it tried to shift blame to Ricon Corporation, which manufactured the lift, as well as to Avery. The company suggested Avery put his wheelchair in reverse while boarding the bus. “How can you blame Tom Avery?” Wood said. He added that MV Transportation downplayed the incident’s physical and mental impact on his client. As for the driver, his employer did not train him to take precautions that could have prevented the fall, according to Wood. At one point, MV Transportation offered but then rescinded a $750,000 settlement, Wood said. Now it must pay 83 percent (roughly $5.3 million) of the $6.4 million, which several lawyers said sets a record for personal injury cases involving Placer County juries in recent memory. The City of Roseville is responsible for the other 17 percent, or $1.1 million, but said it is checking whether MV Transportation has a contractual obligation to pay that, too. The company covered all legal costs. City spokeswoman Megan McPherson did not say whether Roseville was at fault but that it accepted the jury’s decision. “It’s a very sad story,” she said. “When this happened, we reviewed our policy and procedures to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.” With some of the restitution, Avery will likely buy a van designed for quadriplegics and hire a daily occupational or recreational therapist. The assistant would get Avery out into the community and perhaps bring back some of the good humor that has soured since his brain injury. “That’s not the way he used to be,” Wood said of Avery’s short temper. “He knows it and that’s the scary part.” Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.