PHILADELPHIA – A woman who was struck by a school bus when she was in high school and lost her left leg was awarded $14 million by a Pennsylvania jury on Monday, although the award is likely to be reduced under state law.
Ashley Zauflik, 22, of Fairless Hills, spent a month in a medically induced coma and had her leg amputated after the January 2007 crash in the Philadelphia suburbs.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the driver stepped on the accelerator, not the brake, before crashing into a crowd of students during dismissal at Pennsbury High School. The driver long disputed that finding, but the Pennsbury School District admitted liability before trial.
The trial judge is expected to reduce the award to $500,000, the cap allowed under a 1980 Pennsylvania law that protects municipalities and school districts.
Zauflik's lawyer hopes to negotiate a higher settlement with the district or appeal the cap to the state Supreme Court. The high court last upheld the limit in 1986.
"The school district should — because it's moral, and just, and the right thing to do — step forward and create the funds that would compensate Ashley," lawyer Thomas Kline said. "I know it's hard times, but ... these are extraordinary circumstances."
The school district could create an annuity to fund a settlement, Kline said.
David Cohen, who represented the district during the four-day trial, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Zauflik testified last week that the crash left her "disfigured" and struggling with depression. She has had trouble using a prosthetic leg and relies instead on crutches or a wheelchair. She finished high school at home and is enrolled in an online college course.
Her mother told the jury of the difficulty she had telling her daughter about the amputation when she regained consciousness.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Marguerite Zauflik recalled telling her daughter. "It was the only thing I could do to save your life."
The award includes $11 million for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages, and about $3 million for past and future medical expenses.
Kline hopes the award will pay for better prosthetic devices that will allow his client to be more active. His experts estimated her lifetime medical expenses at more than $3 million, most of it for the prosthetic devices, which must be refit periodically.
The $500,000 cap applies to all awards stemming from a single incident. And seven others have sued over injuries from the crash. If the cap is upheld, Zauflik could be left to share the $500,000 with any others who win damage awards.