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Our Verdicts

$1,750,000

18-Wheeler Collision

Settlement

$1,467,000

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

Jury Verdict

$1,070,000

AUTO ACCIDENT 

Jury Verdict

Child fell out of moving school bus, suffered fracture of skull

HARRIS County

Personal Injury/negligence

Negligent Maintenance — Motor Vehicle — Passenger — Bus

Child fell out of moving school bus, suffered fracture of skull

Verdict

$1,893,000

Case

Mysterie Gutierrez, individually and as next friend of Matthew Contreras v. Teresa Argueta d/b/a Argueta Bus Services, No. 2014-59615

Court

Harris County District Court, 295th

Judge

Donna Roth

Date

5/10/2019

Plaintiff Attorney(s)
Eric D. Nielsen (lead), The Nielsen
Law Firm, P.C., Houston, TX
Edward Festeryga, The Nielsen Law
Firm, P.C., Houston, TX
Defense Attorney(s)
Matt W. Childs, Bush & Ramirez
P.C., Houston, TX
Darren E. Ticer, Bush & Ramirez
P.C., Houston, TX
Facts & Allegations

On Sept. 18, 2014, plaintiff Matthew Contreras, 5, was a passenger of a school bus traveling in Houston. He was sleeping in a seat next to an emergency exit. The door opened while the bus was in motion, and Matthew fell out. He suffered a fracture of his skull and abrasions of an ankle and a knee. Students alerted the driver, an employee of Argueta Bus Services or A. Jr. Bus Services.

The driver telephoned his wife, Teresa Argueta, also an Argueta employee, who arrived at the scene and drove Matthew to his great-grandmother’s workplace, where the bus normally discharged him.

Matthew’s mother, Mysterie Gutierrez, acting individually and in Matthew’s behalf, sued Teresa Argueta, operating as Argueta Bus Services, for negligence.

The defense answered as “Hector Argueta, doing business as A. Jr. Bus Services, mistakenly named as Teresa Argueta, doing business as Argueta Bus Services.” In the jury charge, the defendant was submitted as “Argueta Bus Services.”

The plaintiffs alleged that the driver and his employer were negligent in failing to ensure the door functioned properly and for also allowing a 5-year-old to sit or sleep next to an emergency exit, which was against company policy. Also, having a 5-year-old seated next to the emergency exit posed a problem, plaintiffs’ counsel argued.

Plaintiffs’ counsel further argued that the emergency exit flew open because the door or its latch had been damaged and was never fixed.

Plaintiffs’ counsel also argued that an employee should have called 9-1-1 or Matthew’s family rather than simply transporting him. Also, plaintiffs’ counsel argued that Teresa Argueta told Matthew’s great-grandmother that the child had fallen off the bus and scraped a knee and ankle, and failed to apprise the family of the true nature of the incident and extent of his injuries.

The defense denied the door or latch malfunctioned and argued Matthew or another child may have undone the latch. Neither the door nor the latch had ever malfunctioned before, the defense argued.

Injuries/Damages

abrasions; ankle; brain damage; cognition, impairment; fracture, skull; headaches; knee; leg; subdural hematoma; traumatic brain injury

The primary claimed injuries were a skull fracture, a subdural hematoma and a traumatic brain injury. Matthew also claimed headaches and knee and ankle abrasions

Matthew was dropped off at his great-grandmother’s workplace, and she took him home. When Matthew’s mother came home from work, she took the child to the emergency room. Matthew was then transferred by ambulance to a children’s hospital with better trauma care.

He remained for two to three days at the children’s hospital, where he was diagnosed with a skull fracture and a subdural hematoma. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued he sustained a traumatic brain injury resulting in permanent cognitive problems.

Matthew was placed on anti-seizure medication for a month after the accident. He followed up with his pediatrician and complained of headaches.

Matthew also followed up with neurologists after the incident, and, in neurocognitive testing, he scored very low on communicating the meaning of words. He knew words and could choose the correct meaning from a list, but had difficulty explaining the meaning if no list was given.

The plaintiffs’ experts, who were a neuropsychiatrist, a child psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist, opined the problem was a result of Matthew’s brain injury. They testified, because of this injury, Matthew was at greater risk of developing seizures, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, additional traumatic brain injuries, depression or anxiety. They also testified Matthew should never engage in contact sports, skiing or other activities that would expose him to the risk of further traumatic brain injury.

The damages submitted to the jury were Matthew’s past and future physical pain and mental anguish, past and future physical impairment, future medical expenses through age 18 and future medical expenses after age 18. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued for a total of $11 million.

The defense expert, a pediatric neurologist, opined Matthew’s CT scan on the date of the incident showed only a fractured skull and not a subdural hematoma. The defense noted that, when the CT scan was read at the first hospital, it was read as showing only a fractured skull.

The defense further argued Matthew sustained no permanent injury and his grades and conduct in school continued to be good.

Result

The jury found Argueta Bus Services negligent and awarded the plaintiffs $1,893,000.
Hector Argueta, doing business as A. Jr. Bus Services, is the defendant against whom any judgment would be entered.

Matthew Contreras

$5,000 past physical impairment
$1,000,000 future medical expenses after age 18
$300,000 past physical pain and mental anguish
$300,000 future physical pain and mental anguish
$288,000 future medical expenses through age 18
$1,893,000 plaintiff’s total award

Demand

$500,000 (insurance coverage’s limit [Stowers])

Offer

$298,000 (during the trial)

Insurer(s)

Redwood Fire and Casualty Insurance for both defendants

Trial Details

Trial Length: 4 Days
Jury Deliberations: 3 Hours
Jury Poll: 11-0

Plaintiff Expert(s)

David Axelrad, M.D., neuropsychiatry,
Houston, TX
Kit Harrison, Ph.D., neuropsychology,
Houston, TX
Mitchell Young, M.D., child psychiatry,
Houston, TX

Defense Expert(s)

Gary Clark, M.D., pediatric neurology,
Houston, TX

Editor’s Note: This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls. –John Schneider