A jury has awarded a victim in the October 9, 2009, Coleraine school bus crash $28.6 million, finding both drivers in the accident at fault. Paige Anderson, who was 16 years old when the crash occurred, was riding in the back seat of a car that collided with the bus. Anderson was left a quadriplegic after the bus accident, while another passenger, Emmy Foss, died.
Both Drivers at Fault in Coleraine School Bus Crash
The jury found both drivers responsible for the Coleraine school bus crash, handing 10 percent of the fault to school bus driver Jay Poshak, and 90 percent of the fault to Hailey Salo, who was driving the car carrying Anderson and Foss.
Poshak was driving Ely High School’s football team and coaching staff to a game in Onamia, Minnesota when the bus crash occurred. According to reports, the Ford Taurus Salo was driving pulled out in front of the bus to make a left turn and was broadsided by the bus. Foss was airlifted to the hospital where she later died of her injuries. Anderson suffered a crushed spine in two places and was initially only given a five percent chance of surviving her injuries. After being put into a medically induced coma, Anderson required 10 surgeries, including procedures to insert rods and pins on her spinal cord. Salo reportedly suffered brain damage in the accident.
Players and coaches on the bus suffered bumps and bruised ribs but were also reported to have suffered emotional trauma in the school bus crash. Players on the football team later wore the initials of the victims on their helmets during a game.
An official reconstruction of the Coleraine school bus crash by State Patrol found both drivers were inattentive in the accident. Also contributing to the crash was “excessive bus speed.” After the bus broadsided the car, it dragged the smaller vehicle almost 100 feet before both came to a stop. Neither driver received a citation in the crash, though Salo was reportedly texting while she was driving.
“To see a school bus not coming is the question,” said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Paul Blaha, in the wake of the crash. “Why wasn’t it seen? It’s a pretty big object coming down the road. The school bus stayed upright. Had it rolled further or tipped over in the ditch, we’d have had quite a problem on our hands.”
Anderson Unlikely to Collect Full Amount
Despite the jury’s award of more than $28 million, it is unlikely that Anderson, now 23 years old, will collect the full amount. An attorney for Ely school district, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, noted that the school district is subject to a state statute limited liability, meaning the most their insurance would have to pay would be $1.5 million.
The jury awarded damages for past and future medical expenses, pain, suffering, emotional distress, and loss of earning capacity.
The state will pay for $15 million in medical expenses, according to reports. Ely School District will not have to pay anything to the family of the young woman who died in the Coleraine school bus crash, as the district was found not negligent in her death. The Foss family did settle a lawsuit with Salo’s family.
Because all defendants have insurance coverage that is substantially less than the amount awarded, Anderson will likely never see the full amount of the $28.6 million. The defendants also still have the right to appeal the award.
Bus Accident Victim Speaks Out About Distracted Driving
Since the accident that drastically changed her life, Anderson has been speaking out about the dangers of distracted driving. She shares her story with local schools in the hopes of preventing other teens from being injured or killed in a distracted driving accident like the Coleraine school bus crash.
“My friend was driving and she got a brain injury,” Anderson said in a speech to Proctor High School in 2014. “My other friend that was in the passenger seat, she died. I broke my neck and crushed all my insides.”
Distracted Driving Accident Statistics
According to the U.S. Government Website for Distracted Driving, distracted driving includes “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving” including texting, using a cell phone, eating, and drinking, grooming, and watching a video. The same site notes in 2014 there were 3,179 fatalities and 431,000 injuries in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 10 percent of all drivers age 15 to 19 years old that were involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. The same age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of their crash.
The NHTSA further reports that in 2013 there were 411 fatal crashes resulting in 445 fatalities in the United States that were linked to cell phone use as a distraction, including talking on or in some way manipulating a cell phone. Meanwhile, a study suggests that people who text and drive pull their eyes off the road an average of five seconds at a time, which is enough to drive across a football field if driving at 55 miles per hour.
In the case of the Coleraine school bus crash lawsuit, the jury put the bulk of the responsibility on Salo, who was reportedly texting at the time of the accident.