Laidlaw agrees to pay $2 million

Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2000

HOMER -- The bus company serving Kenai Peninsula schools agreed this week to pay $2 million to a trust fund for Ashley Logan, the young girl severely injured in January 1997 when she was struck by a Chevy Blazer at an East End Road school bus stop.

Logan's mother, Patricia Seay, sued Laidlaw Transit Inc. and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District earlier this year for negligence for allegedly failing to provide a safe bus stop. In September, a Homer jury found the district was not responsible but deadlocked over Laidlaw's culpability.

A new trial was scheduled to begin this week.

Laidlaw offered the out-of-court settlement on Oct. 27. Seay accepted the deal Nov. 3. A court hearing Nov. 20 affirmed the settlement and began the process of determining how the money will be allotted between Logan's trust, attorneys fees, court costs and other fees.

Logan, a student at McNeil Canyon Elementary School at the time of the accident, was 7 that dark January morning when she darted across East End Road toward her bus stop and was struck by an eastbound Chevrolet Blazer driven by Ronald D. Olson, then 58.

Police did not cite Olson. The school bus had not yet arrived at the bus stop when the accident occurred.

The crash left Logan severely brain-damaged, confined to a wheelchair and in need of constant and costly care.

Seay filed her suit against the bus company and school district charging them with negligence for failure to provide a safe waiting place for Logan. She claimed the bus company and the district had failed to educate the children about proper bus stop safety, and that the bus company driver had instructed children to cross the street and be waiting at the bus stop before the bus arrived to avoid being late.

The bus company said it and the district had taken all necessary steps to teach children proper bus and bus stop safety, and that children were not told to cross busy roads to reach the boarding locations until a bus had arrived and switched on its red lights.

According to Seay's attorneys, Logan's medical expenses had reached $1.2 million by the time of the trial and the total might range between $6 million and $9 million.

Laidlaw countersued, claiming it was Seay's and Logan's negligence that led to the accident. Further, Laidlaw sued the Blazer's driver, Olson, saying he should bear part of the civil responsibility, too.

Olson's insurance company and Seay already had reached an out-of-court settlement of their own long before Seay filed suit against Laidlaw and the district, according to Laidlaw's attorney Alex Young. No details were available.

A jury deliberated for several days following the September trial, reaching the conclusion that the school district was not liable. However, it deadlocked on the question of Laidlaw's responsibility. The jury never got to the issue of Olson's responsibility or that of Seay and Logan.

A new trial was tentatively scheduled to begin Monday, but the two sides agreed to the settlement before it started.

Young said he, personally, did not feel Laidlaw was liable but said his client weighed the risks it might lose the case if brought before a second jury.

"I feel pretty good about the fact there will be some money there for that little girl," he said. "It's a fair settlement."

Young said, however, that Laidlaw had been prepared to settle before the trial and actually offered more money than this week's settlement figure. Negotiations between the parties, however, were unsuccessful.

"Plaintiffs were demanding way too much," he said.

Laidlaw admits no responsibility in reaching the settlement.

Kenai Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link must now determine how the money will be allotted.

Logan's money, minus costs, will go into a special-needs trust, he said.

Young said what happened to Logan was terrible and compounded by the fact she is unlikely to improve much from her current condition. If any good has flowed from the accident, he said, it is that steps have been taken to boost bus stop safety even more and to further educate children.

"They've doubled and redoubled efforts at education," Young said of Laidlaw and the school district. "They will continue to do what they are doing and do it even better."

Dan Westerburg, attorney for Seay, said his client "wanted to remain low-key" about the settlement and would have no comment for now. A phone message to Seay seeking comment was not returned.

"She is glad the case is over with," Westerburg said.

Link said that in cases like this, at least one appointed trustee is likely to be someone with knowledge about investing and who can interpret information from investment professionals. That will be an independent third party not related to the family. The trust will be managed in the best interest of the child, he said.

Another hearing on allotment procedures has been set for Dec. 5, he said.

Ashley Logan currently attends West Homer Elementary School where she is enrolled in a program for students with severe handicaps.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Homer News.

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