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$3.5 Million for Bus Accident Injuries : Student Wins Settlement in Seat Belt Suit

September 11, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A 17-year-old girl injured late last year when the bus she was riding in overturned on an icy Utah road has been promised a settlement by Greyhound Lines Inc. that will provide her $3.5 million, according to her lawyer.

The accident--involving a busload of high school students on the way to a weekend skiing holiday and resulting in the death of one--led to a campaign in California to enact legislation requiring seat belts on buses used to transport students.

"By forcing them to pay this kind of money . . . they're going to come to the realization that economically it costs more to settle a lawsuit than it does to provide seat belts," said Ernest J. Franceschi, the lawyer representing Karyn Rossebo. In a suit filed in January, Franceschi asked for $60 million in damages, charging that Rossebo had been injured because Greyhound "carelessly and negligently" transported her in a bus without seat belts. The out-of-court settlement, he said, was reached in a four-hour meeting between the two parties late last week.

A spokesman for Greyhound would neither confirm nor deny the settlement, saying that it was against company policy to comment on such matters. Franceschi said that under the settlement, Greyhound will pay about $1 million for an annuity that will yield Rossebo $3.5 million over the next 48 years.

Suffered Fractured Pelvis

Rossebo, then a senior at Long Beach's Wilson High School, suffered a fractured pelvis and other injuries early on the morning of Dec. 30, 1985, when a chartered Greyhound bus she was riding in with 43 other students en route to a holiday ski retreat in Sun Valley, Ida., skidded and overturned on an icy road near Nephi, Utah.

After spending a month in the hospital, she eventually returned to graduate with her class and is now a freshman at San Diego State University.

One girl--Kristin Baker--was killed in the crash, prompting her mother, Terri Peterson, to spearhead a statewide crusade for legislation requiring seat belts in school buses and chartered buses used to transport students.

At least two bills were linked by their authors to Peterson's efforts, which included several trips to Sacramento to testify on behalf of seat belt legislation. One measure, proposed by Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach), passed the Assembly but was eventually killed by the Senate Transportation Committee. Another, introduced by Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles), was enacted, but only in a watered-down form that calls for a study by the California Highway Patrol to determine whether seat belts would enhance school bus safety.

A wrongful-death suit filed by Peterson against the bus company in June is still pending. Also pending is a suit filed on behalf of another student who was injured in the accident.

'I Feel Satisfied'

Rossebo, interviewed by telephone from her dormitory room in San Diego, said she was surprised and pleased by the amount of the settlement. "At first I didn't believe it," she said. "I thought I was going to have to go to court and maybe get the money in 5 or 10 years. I feel satisfied."

After leaving the hospital where she underwent major surgery to correct the damage to her hip and pelvis, Rossebo said, she continued her studies with the aid of a home tutor until returning to school just a few weeks before graduation. Today the young woman, who said she wants to be a psychologist, walks with the aid of a leg brace and bears scars from her lower back to her thigh.

"Sometimes it's painful and I get real tired," said Rossebo, whose athletic activities are now limited to swimming. Previously, she said, she was active in skiing, aerobics, jogging and bike riding. "I hate wearing the brace," she said. "When I'm with people I don't know, it feels strange."

But she has learned to look on the positive side of the event that changed her life. "I've learned about myself and other people," Rossebo said. "How important life is and how important your family and friends are."

Payment of the $3.5 million will begin this year with a $20,000 installment and increase to $45,000 next year, according to Franceschi. These annual payments will increase to $100,000 by age 29. From age 30 to 65, Rossebo will receive a payment once every five years in amounts increasing from $100,000 to $500,000.

"I plan to invest it," the student said of her yearly checks.

But the girl's father, Tom Rossebo, said he wouldn't go through what his daughter has experienced for any amount of money. "She's had a lot of heavy things to deal with and she's probably come through it better than I would," he said. "It's pretty hard to put a monetary value on this kind of thing. She's going to know (what happened to her) for a long time to come."

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